I gave myself the best birthday present this year — I was tested for autism. Turning fifty, I want to fully embrace the next half of the journey with clarity, peace and open hands for whatever life holds. Since testing, my autistic diagnosis has radically changed everything in my life for the better.
The Bible encourages us, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:14 New International Version).
However, I have always felt like I was made … with leftover parts; parts that are awkward, uncomfortable and don’t fit well together.
I began to wonder if maybe some of the disjointed things about me are, in fact, connected. I was not looking for a diagnosis; rather for answers to questions held close to my heart.
My journey began when I randomly read the story of a woman in her late twenties who had recently learned she was autistic. I thought, “How could she not know something so huge about herself before now?” Surprisingly — some of her story was eerily similar to mine. It’s like we were living parallel lives in a world neither of us knew existed. Her story haunted me. Skeptical, I did a deep dive into the subject of women with autism.
After all, how could I not know something so huge about myself before now? I’ve been married for thirty-one years, earned a bachelor’s degree, raised three children, own a business, am published, manage our home and most of our finances, travel internationally for humanitarian work, volunteer locally in countless ways for more than three decades, organize and lead large fundraising efforts for a non-profit for the past fifteen years, etc. I’ve been the leader/organizer for countless groups and a speaker across the globe on several topics. I did not understand how I could be autistic; still questions gnawed at my soul.
Through researching the internet, listening to TED Talks, and reading many testimonials from other autistic women, I saw many similarities between us in the way autism presents itself.
I discovered a not-so-secret society of women who use their autism as a strength. They are women from all walks of life who are thriving because of, not despite, the way they were made. They are confident, courageous and comfortable in their own skin.
For me, I was standing at the beginning of this journey not sure where I wanted it to take me. The autism markers in me were there, but the only way to know for certain was to be professionally tested.
A new empty nester at the time, I was in the middle of re-learning to cohabitate with my husband of thirty years after moving him back home full-time since working out-of-state for two years when his office closed due to COVID-19. During this time, we also helped move our daughter a plane ride away; moved our youngest son back to college again after its campus closed twice for COVID-19; moved our oldest son into his apartment post college graduation; and suffered the loss of my mother-in-law to angiosarcoma and Alzheimer’s. I was the primary caregiver during her last two years and worked closely with many doctors, home-health staff, assisted-living staff, as well as all her shopping, hands-on needs, etc. It was an honor to be her advocate.
When life’s dust began to settle, I tried to lean into finding a new normal. But, in a season which brought such massive change … I was totally, utterly lost. And in the middle of a global pandemic, nonetheless, hunkered down at home for a year when life all but stopped, now was time to flesh out this autism issue.
I found a licensed psychologist who tests adults for autism, though she practices in a group whose clients are children. As she led me down the winding halls, I smiled at the superhero posters that lined the vibrantly painted walls and was happily reminded of my children’s playful years pretending to have superpowers to save their imaginary city.
After several brain-bending, mind-melting, and exhausting days of assessment (including a full-on tearful breakdown at one point) the testing was complete. The psychologist and I met after a month (which felt like a year) of her reviewing my results, and she presented me with the team’s and her findings. For hours, she thoroughly went through everything, answered my many questions, handed me multiple pages of results and recommended I continue therapy and connect with community autism groups.
Then she set her pen down, looked at me and asked, “How do you feel about all of this?” With a huge smile of relief I answered, “This is the best news ever!” Wide-eyed with a look of shock and awe, she said my response wasn’t what she expected.
Learning I am autistic connects so many dots in my life. I felt like I was reborn and drew my first honest breath. With new eyes and ears, I can see, hear and experience the world around me all over again … in a brand-new way.
I asked her if I, a middle-aged woman testing for autism, was an anomaly. Amazingly, she said she sees women in her office weekly who ask to be tested. Women who, in their words, “have always felt like they were just a little different and that something was slightly off.” She explained in my generation’s era, testing for autism was non-existent. Years later, some of its symptoms were labeled as acting out or misbehaving. By my children’s generation, only boys were tested for autism. Sadly, girls have been completely overlooked in the autism arena until recently. Only now are girls and women being taken seriously regarding autism, and even then, not all the time.
Ten months into this journey, I know who I am for the first time in my life. I am not made with leftover parts. I am wired differently, but not less than.
Different — not less than.
One friend I talked to about my diagnosis said with surprise, “But look at your life! Look at your life!” Although I may not look like the stereotype for autism in our society, I’ve lived with the daily weight and stress of struggling to stay status quo. Slowly, I am letting go of the shame, self-hate and anxiety that played far too big of a role in my life because now I understand the root of those feelings.
I am ready to join this not-so secret society of women who are unapologetic about our autism. And I am not alone. Girls and women of all ages and walks of life who are autistic -
You are seen.
You are heard.
You are important.
You were created for a purpose that only you can do.
We are capable people with unique strengths, gifts and talents. Embrace them! We can use them for our good, the good of others and the glory of God. Autism is our superpower, our hidden strength. We can do better than save an imaginary city. We can use it to bring real joy and love to this world while finding peace with ourselves.
We can use our autism in ways society needs us to through creative problem-solving, attention to detail, and out-of-the-box thinking, while being fearless to take initiative and try new things.
Once in kindergarten when we were learning how to color (yes, that was a thing), the teacher asked us, “So class, do we color inside the lines or outside the lines?”
The whole class yelled in unison, “Inside the lines!”
While at the same time, I enthusiastically — with hands raised — yelled, “Outside the lines!”
I’ll never forget how embarrassed I was as my classmates turned and stared at me. The teacher said nothing, and I heard her silence loud and clear.
My life, until now, has been spent trying to color inside the lines, while my mind and heart think, see, hear, and experience our world outside the lines.
The second-best birthday present I gave myself this year was to stop living a life coloring inside the lines. This autism diagnosis has, in essence, given me freedom to stop comparing myself to others, disregard status quo, and find the path that was made just for me.
For us girls and women who are autistic, we may not know what the road ahead looks like, but we can more deeply enjoy the journey when we better understand ourselves.
As for me, I’m just getting started, and now I can truly say I’m loving the ride.