I’m a woman in my late thirties and I’m considering getting an assessment to see if I’m autistic.
There are lots of reasons why I think I might be autistic.
- I’ve always felt like there’s something wrong me and often been called weird, aloof, naive, “not a normal girl” and that I “overthink things”
- I get hyper focussed on things – I can do something for hours, zone out everything around me and sometimes forget to eat
- I don’t like typical female topics of conversations or activities. I’m not interested in shopping, fashion, make-up, or celebrities. I like science, sport, sewing, gardening reading, music and learning new things
- I have issues with socialising and a preference for one-to-one conversations. I hate parties and work social events – feels like it’s time to perform and its so tiring. I feel noticeably relieved when I leave – all my muscles unclench. I then feel really tired, start to analyse it all, and worry about what’s wrong with me because I don’t love socialising like everyone else seems to
- I prefer conversations that involve exchanging information and hearing about someone’s view on a topic rather than conversations that seem pointless to me.
- I have issues with group interactions at work – I prefer to gather the information I need from emails, documents or one-to-one face to face conversations. Workshops are so tiring and I struggle to keep up and process the conversation.
- I get a bit obsessed with a new hobby and then after a few months move onto another hobby and get obsessed with that. Are these “special interests”?
- I seem to be easily overwhelmed with things that don’t seem to bother most people
- I prefer reading and writing over listening and speaking. I often struggle to convey my thoughts verbally
- I frequently (increasingly so) feel exhausted and go into a “quiet mode” that seems similar to how people have described shutdowns,
- I’m quite sensitive to a lot of things – noise, spice, alcohol, pain, emotions…
- I struggle a lot with anxiety, depression and migraines that seem to be alleviated when I spend a few days/weeks shutting myself off from people and jobs
- I’ve done a few online tests and the results put me in the “likely to be autistic” category
…but at the same time I have doubts because there are lots of traits I don’t think I have. But maybe these are just my misconceptions about autism or I don’t really understand what people mean when they talk about repetitive behaviour, stimming and empathy. I’ve recently seen a lot of blogs and You Tube videos that talk about how autism expresses itself differently in different people so maybe I’m just another slightly different variant?
The main reasons that I initially thought I couldn’t be autistic were:
I have empathy
I’ve read that people with autism don’t have empathy but I have too much empathy if anything. If I’m watching films and something sad happens I’ll have an extremely deep, emotional reaction, as if its happening to me, and will cry so much that I can’t speak for a minute or so.
However, it seems I may have misunderstood about autistic people not having empathy. I recently read an article that Sacha Baren-Cohen’s “extreme male brain theory” has been confirmed, in which it mentioned that there are different types of empathy and its just a certain type that is being referred to when people talk about a lack of empathy associated with autism:
“The first misinterpretation is that the results mean that autistic people lack empathy, but this isn’t the case. Empathy has two major parts: cognitive empathy (being able to recognise what someone else is thinking or feeling) and affective empathy (having an appropriate emotional response to what someone else is thinking or feeling).
The evidence suggests that it is only the first aspect of empathy – also known as “theory of mind” – that autistic people on average struggle with. As a result, autistic people are not uncaring or cruel but are simply confused by other people. They don’t tend to hurt others, rather they avoid others.
They may miss the cues in someone’s facial expression or vocal intonation about how that person is feeling. Or they may have trouble putting themselves in someone else’s shoes, to imagine their thoughts. But when they are told that someone else is suffering, it upsets them and they are moved to want to help that person.
So autistic people do not lack empathy.”
So, maybe that’s not a valid reason to think I may not be autistic. However, I’m still unsure because I think I can put myself in someone else’s shoes and imagine what they might be thinking or feeling, and I think I can “read” facial expressions and notice vocal intonation. So maybe that means I’m not autistic?
I don’t flap my hands, bang my head, or rock back and forth
It may be that I’ve only seen or read about a very small subset of autistic people and that whilst they flap their hands and/or bang their heads or rock back and forth, not every autistic person does? But also I don’t think I “stim” in other ways either. Or do I?
- When I’m standing up waiting in a queue/at the checkout/in a meeting I tend to rock/swing side to side
- I’m always picking the skin on my thumbs (I think this is because of feeling anxious most of the time)
- I sing/whistle the same bit of the same song when I’m feeling happy
- When I hear a new song I really like I’ll listen to it over and over again.
- If I like a restaurant I’ll go there again and again. That’s not to say I’ll never go to another restaurant again but I’ll go several times to one that I’ve just discovered I like until I get bored of it and then either try something new or (more likely) go to a previous favourite restaurant.
So maybe I do have repetitive behaviours but these are more “subtle”?
I can make eye contact
Not sure about this one. I can look someone in the eye but most of the time when I’m talking I find it easier to focus on what I’m saying to look elsewhere.
I understand sarcasm
At least I think I do!
I’ve read a lot, and watched a lot of You Tube videos, about autism in women (like this from Sarah Hendrickx and how it may show up slightly differently in women than it does for men. So maybe my doubts about autism are because my preconceptions are based on the things written about males with autism? I don’t know.
According to what I’ve read, autism is characterised by three main characteristics:
(1) problems with communication or language,
(2) poor social skills, and
(3) a restricted range of interest and/or repetitive behaviours.
I’ve been thinking and reading about autism so much for so long now I think I’d like to get an assessment for diagnosis just so I know one way or the other because the curiosity is killing me. Also, I’ve been increasingly struggling with work, migraines, anxiety and depression – issues that I’m desperate to sort out – and if autism is the root cause then it would be great to know so that I can try to make changes to alleviate the issues. If its not autism then at least I’ve ruled it out and maybe the professionals doing the diagnosis can point me in the right direction for the help I need.