A Word About Autism & Neurodivergency

Trigger warning for suicide and mental health situations.

When talking about diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, neurodivergency is a bit of an underdog. There are not always immediate visible indicators that a person is neurodivergent or autistic. Much as some chronic pain sufferers without visible handicaps are treated, being neurodivergent can trap a person in a world where everything feels wrong, but they are the only one who knows it. What is autism? It is not a disease; it is not the result of a single gene that can be targeted and “corrected.” In fact, many autistic people would say they do not need a cure, they simply need the world to make some minor accommodations so that they can be successful in it. What makes autistics different from neurotypicals? “Autism is a lifelong developmental condition diagnosed on the basis of difficulties in social and communication skills and in adapting to unexpected change, alongside heightened sensory sensitivity, unusually deep interests in specific topics, and a preference for predictability. There are many barriers to obtaining an autism diagnosis, including limited availability of diagnostic services, leading to long waiting lists. Even post-diagnosis, there are insufficient support services for autistic people.” Unfortunately, autism diagnosis in the world of 2022 falls far behind in inclusively identifying people who are autistic.

Adults can have a very difficult time being diagnosed with autism, even more so if they are anything other than a white male. By adulthood, many autistics have developed masking that allows them to function by changing aspects of their personality in public. This is not done as a deception; it is a literal survival behavior. This masking or social camouflage can also prevent later diagnosis because the autistic person has learned to present as neurotypical after a lifetime of problems due to not being diagnosed. It is a self-feeding loop that can be nearly impossible to break. Masking is also extremely stressful on those autistics that have figured out how to do it to make their lives easier. While it might make social and professional interactions easier on the people being interacted with, this false, learned face is not natural and can be incredibly taxing to keep up. This results in many who are neurodivergent having comorbidity issues with anxiety and depression. Autistic people commit suicide at a rate roughly three times higher than average according to research out of Denmark. A more recent UK study found that though 1% of their population is autistic, they make up 15% of people hospitalized after suicide attempts.

Finding the right resources for an adult autism diagnosis can appear daunting. Even the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s autism resources page does not address diagnosing autism in adults. Instead, it talks about resources for adults who were diagnosed as children. Many autism centers are exclusively child focused. The best course of action if you suspect you are autistic is to find a psychiatrist or psychologist that works with autism. Diagnosing an adult with autism can involve a series of tests and observations. Your medical history will be reviewed, your behavior and body language will be examined, and your early childhood will be revisited to look for signs.

Here at TAMU-CC, the University Counseling Center has some services available for neurodivergent individuals. Dr. Stephanie Fuentes-Majors, Counselor and Outreach Coordinator for the UCC writes:  Individual counseling services are offered, but also offered is a specific group for our Neurodiverse students which is inclusive of those who have been diagnosed or those who have been undiagnosed with a neurodiversity. Here is the description of the group that will be offered in both the upcoming fall and spring semesters:

“Designed for students identifying as neurodiverse (diagnosed or undiagnosed) including but not limited to those on the Autism spectrum, Asperger’s, or ADHD. This 6-week group provides ways for students to improve relationships & begin to prepare for life after college by developing healthy habits, independence, and better relationships all while highlighting the strengths of having a neurodiverse brain.”

Further: For students who are wanting testing, we typically refer out to psychologists in our community. A community provider that I often refer my neurodiverse students who may be graduating and/or are wanting to transition to community treatment is Bill Butler, LCSW with Spectrum Counseling.

Many people diagnosed with autism later in life feel a sense of relief. They have frequently experienced lifelong difficulties with seemingly mundane, everyday situations, and being diagnosed can help them understand how to contend with the strengths and weaknesses that come along with being neurodivergent. It will also give them access to resources and support to help them on their journey. If you suspect you may be autistic, I encourage you to search for resources to determine a diagnosis. You are not alone.

Eric Christensen

Special Collections & Archives

Member of IDEA (Inclusivity, diversity, equity, accessibility) Committee for the Mary and Jeff Bell Library

https://medium.com/neurodiversified/self-diagnosis-is-valid-d96d41cfb02b

Kolves, K., Fitzgerald, C., Nordentoft, M., Wood, S. J., & Erlangsen, A. (2021). Assessment of suicidal behaviors among individuals with autism spectrum disorder in Denmark. JAMA Network Open, 4(1), e2033565. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.33565

https://www.newswise.com/articles/study-reveals-high-rate-of-possible-undiagnosed-autism-in-people-who-died-by-suicide (UK study linked at end of article)

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