Getting Past Blame
ONE THING about being a midlife-diagnosed autistic is that people get caught up in the occasional post-mortem of the pre-diagnosis decades, especially the childhood years.
Somewhere back there must be evidence that went unnoticed, unremarked upon. Or mistaken for something else. In my case we’re talking about the 1970s and, really, kids back then were not getting diagnosed as autistic unless they were constantly in corners rocking or flailing so much doctors put them in helmets.
As my new psychoconsultant said to me today, other types of autistic kids weren’t getting diagnosed to any serious degree until the 1990s.
If anything, I’d likely have been diagnosed with something else. We can debate whether I’d have been better off with a misdiagnosis rather than no diagnosis, but even that seems pretty pointless. The history lesson is productive not because it assigns blame but because it reinforces the diagnosis. There’s no need for guilt.
This is important not just for strategic reasons, like trying to convince Social Security that, yes, I really am disabled under their rules despite the lack of any medical or psychological record prior to 2016, but also because late-diagnosed autistics need to reevauate their past life. Late diagnosis comes with a sort of identity crisis, because it turns you spent all those years, or decades, impersonating some socially-informed idea of a normal person, just, you know, very, very poorly.
So when a family member tells me about going to see a therapist after my parents split up and how I simply snorkeled myself up in my snow jacket and stayed that way until it was time to leave, that’s not, to me, a story about how the people around me failed to notice I was autistic (because mostly no one, back then, would have recognized anything I was going through as autism) but instead a story that helps me peg down a narrative of my past that’s consistent with the narrative of my present.
The post-mortems aren’t about blame, they are about trying to find how the story of one’s then connects to the story of one’s now.
That kid hiding in the snorkel jacket is me today. That kid who went to a crowded scouting orientation, feaked out, and left is me today. The teen who blew through his twenty hours of community service in something like five is me today. There was no reason, given the time, that anyone would really see him then. It just matters that I can see him now.