getting diagnosed with aspergers as an adult has challenges

Reflections on an Asperger Diagnosis In Adulthood

Learning that one has Asperger’s Syndrome as an adult is a different kind of challenge than those who find out with systemic and parental support and guidance in childhood. It gives one pause for much reflection.

Having Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) and knowing about it in childhood is one thing and being diagnosed as an adult is another. Trying to cope with AS after a life time of experiencing its many challenges and having not known the reason for its impact in my life has brought to the process a lot of reflecting and grief for me.

One of the most difficult challenges of dealing with an AS diagnosis in adulthood, for me, has been the reality that while I was finding all of this out there were no services to help in the necessary transition, adjustment, or understanding of what it will all mean in my life and for my future.

There is much to reflect upon when it comes to my experience of learning that I have Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 40.

The struggle and process of accepting AS, understanding how it plays out in my life, and affects my life generally is a gradual, still, unfolding one. This is especially true in terms of working hard to meet my partner (NT) in the middle of all that is complicated communication and relating.

One of the biggest challenges, in adulthood, is how to not only further educate yourself, after being diagnosed with AS, but the responsibility of informing and educating friends, family, and significant others so that relationships cannot only be maintained but enriched, viable, and as painless and stress-free as possible.

In my own life I have found that the more I relate in my primary relationship, the more I learn about how Asperger’s actually impacts my ability to relate. This is important to learn, to know more about and understand. However, with each new revelation and this further understanding comes pain, sometimes embarrassment, always grief and tears.

There is a natural tendency to want to protect that which one may feel leaves them so different, vulnerable, weak, or lost and yet for an adult with AS, it is crucial to trust your significant other with this tender and vulnerable area of lack of knowing or understanding relationally as NT adults relate and communicate in order to learn more and be able to push the limits of your ability to in fact relate, communicate and learn to negotiate.

The most difficult area, where I find this really impacts me, in terms of my relationship centres upon trying to learn to be more flexible, to manage the inevitable stress and agitation that result from a lack of unpredictability and/or changeability as well as learning what negotiation is and looks like. I may not always get there but when my partner is patient and I am able to follow through with my own communication process and differences in this area, I find that we can meet in some middle place that allows us to hear and understand each other and results in us reducing the amount of conflict between us.

Generally, then, and to summarize what I am reflecting about here, if you are, like me, an adult who is diagnosed with AS at an older age, it is very important that you give yourself time and space to accept this, to grieve and feel about it and to find ways to bridge the differences and gaps with those neuro-typicals (NT) in your life so that you don’t have to be so isolated.

I am learning through just living this and a process of trial and error that healthy risk, trust in myself, and in those I know, and in my partner mean that I can celebrate my differences, rejoice in the gifts of AS and not lose out in all other areas of NT life. I choose to step off of my AS (autistic) planet and onto the NT planet more often than ever before now. I also, at times, straddle both planets. There are times when just being on my AS planet also is very necessary. Making these shifts isn’t easy but the more I choose them the more I am able to better cope with them.

I have learned, that in fact, to some degree, I can have the best of both worlds. This is not the case without agitation, some stress, and pain. The key here, I’ve found, is learning to tolerate and cope effectively with the agitation, stress, and pain.

Though I can and do reach out to others and to my NT partner in ways that require me stretching and reaching and in ways that don’t feel first nature to me, I also very much have come to accept myself as I am. This acceptance is still growing. It is imporant because I had to come to learn and really know that it is okay to be different. I am still likable and lovable even though for many and for my NT partner I am (at some times more than others) quite different. In fact my NT partner even values some of my eccentricity and quirkiness. There is so much room for bridges to be built. Don’t let the fact that you have been diagnosed with AS (as an adult or at all regardless of age) leave you believing that you can’t learn to find your own way to the kind of communication and relating needed to share time and space and feelings with others.

It is my conclusion, upon this reflection that what I have to endure at times to be in a primary relationship and to have love and companionship in my life is well worth it. There are times I still feel pretty green and fairly lost but if I allow myself to be there and not judge myself I find I can navigate those waters, in time, quite effectively and with positive results.

There are times I really enjoy a lot about space, aloneness, and what it means to live in a more natural AS/autistic realm. However, I don’t have to be totally there.

Even those of diagnosed in adulthood and without services can learn to relate and function in ways (that while they feel foreign) allow us to know what deep connection is about (even if we need respite from it and it is stressful more often than not) and to know what it is to love and be loved.

There is life after the AS diagnosis in adulthood.

There can be relationships and relating. Educating oneself is of primary importance. Also of utmost importance is the realization, understanding, and acceptance of ourselves and the reality that while AS makes many things in life somewhat more complicated it bestows upon us gifts and skills that we must celebrate and fulfill our potential with, through, and because of.

© Ms. A.J. Mahari 2004