UNDERSTANDING HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM: LATE DIAGNOSIS 
Mental HealthSociety

UNDERSTANDING HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM: LATE DIAGNOSIS 

Recently, I published an article called Understanding High-Functioning Autism: Beyond Stereotypes and Labels. Suppose you are a reader searching for an explanation of high-functioning autism or interested in exploring the difference between stereotypes and facts. In that case, I suggest you read this earlier publication first. 

In this previous article, I listed some frequent factors that can delay the identification of neurodivergence in high-functioning individuals. Now, I wish to expand upon the journey commonly experienced by those who consider pursuing a late diagnosis of autism. 

The Lead-Up to a High-Functioning Autism Diagnosis: Why Seek a Diagnosis? 

As children, we depend on our guardians to acknowledge the (often subtle) presentation of our neurodivergence and subsequently address our daily struggles with kindness. This, unfortunately, does not always happen. Yet, as adults, we can take personal responsibility for our mental health’s development and preservation. That is why many individuals choose to pursue a referral for specialised assessment and a medical diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 

High-functioning autism

Many people living with high-functioning autism report that before they were officially diagnosed, they could not help feeling distinctly ‘different’ to the majority of their peers. Although everyone may feel like an outsider from time to time, it is described as a lifelong state for neurodivergent individuals.

Furthermore, it is essential to note that this is an internal sensation that can often be successfully masked or can manifest in other forms, such as bitterness and anger. For these individuals, a diagnosis can provide the starting point for a rewarding journey of self-discovery. With time and understanding, many differences that set the autistic person apart can be appreciated as personal strengths. 

Moreover, some seek an autism assessment following the advice of a practising psychologist or mental health counsellor. After creating a rapport, trained professionals may be able to identify autistic characteristics in their undiagnosed patients. In this case, the suggested referral might come as an unexpected shock. With only the stereotypical portrayal of level three autistic children and adults as a frame of reference, the client may struggle to see the autistic experience as a reflection of their difficulties.

As I discussed in my previous article, society and media generally tend to focus on the outward signs of neurodivergence, neglecting to consider the lengths an individual with high-functioning autism goes to mask their atypical traits and habits. 

For guidance on securing specialised assessment, visit:

Suppose you have stumbled upon this article because you yourself have begun to suspect you may be autistic and are considering reaching out to healthcare professionals. In that case, I applaud your steps to understand your internal workings better. The ins and outs of neurodivergence may appear daunting, however, with a little time and effort you can equip resources and coping methods that will make your daily life easier.  

Self-Diagnosis: Dangerous or Necessary?   

For most adults living in the UK, securing a formal diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lengthy and challenging process. It is, hence, understandable that many isolated individuals who can relate to the symptoms of neurodivergence will choose to self-identify as autistic. However, the validity of self-diagnosed autism is a debated topic within medical and ASD communities. 

Independent self-assessment always risks misunderstanding and confusion, particularly since the condition’s spectrum of symptoms varies broadly in severity and form. Individuals may rely on sources that convey an unfocused or incomplete picture of the complex condition. Furthermore, autism can share symptoms with other conditions or ailments, presenting an overlap that can cause misdiagnosis. 

High-functioning autism

Although I agree there are risks, I also believe that profuse research and internal evaluation are valuable excursions for anyone questioning their neurological identity if done with apt caution. Whether an individual is undergoing the journey to receive a formal diagnosis or is currently unable to do so, I recommend responsibly educating oneself on autism. 

Online Education and Advocacy 

I have made the above statement based on the past errors made in my own life. 

In my case, I was 17 years old when I was assessed and diagnosed with high-functioning autism -or Aspergers, as it was previously called. It was extremely validating to, at last, have a psychiatrist confirm what I had known my whole life: that I had special needs.

And yet, I had little idea of what autism was, and was not given the adequate support I required. This is because a few short months later I had turned 18 and was made to change from the children’s mental health sector to my small town’s deeply incompetent adult division. Thus, with the mysterious label came a sense of shame. 

A few years passed before I took the initiative to educate myself. During this time, the Internet became my greatest source of information. 

I stand by the opinion that the best way to learn about this condition is to listen directly to autistic individuals. Only they can genuinely paint an accurate picture of what it is like to be a neurodivergent navigating the modern world. 

See below some helpful links:

Additionally, social media granted me access to an online community of like-minded people who shared a host of relatable stories detailing past and present struggles. Through these advocates and support groups, I not only learned things about myself but also accumulated coping mechanisms. 

See below some of my favourite Instagram advocates: 

@autism_support_community

@neurodivergent_lou

@autisticbookclub

@sensorystoriesbynicole

@morgaanfoley

@kaelynnvp

@toren.wolf

Lastly, I’d like to say that as fantastic as social media is for education and advocacy, nothing can replace the feeling of acceptance one can achieve by simply acquiring like-minded friends. Multiple studies and sources suggest that more than one in one hundred people are on the spectrum.

If you are a neurodivergent individual feeling isolated in your current social environment, please know that you are not alone. In time, you will find autistic individuals who will understand and accept you fully.

I was lucky to find my group in university, before which I was convinced I would not see people I could feel genuinely comfortable around and be completely myself with. If you do not discover friends like these by chance, seek out autistic support groups and charities in your local community. 

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