Living 24 years as an undiagnosed autistic female
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Living 24 years as an undiagnosed autistic female
Even though I am an undiagnosed autistic female, all of my “quirks” can be summed up in one word: autism. Why didn’t my doctors see this?
Loud noises made me cry. I was diagnosed with Selective Mutism as a child. If I like something, I must know every little thing and won’t shut up about it. I’ve always been the odd one out in social situations. I’m the one who eats chicken fingers at upscale restaurants.
Growing up, my family and I saw these things and just thought that I had some weird anxiety thing going on. It was a complex mess of things that I hated trying to explain to other people. It most likely ran in the family. One aunt is a really picky eater, the other stresses out about sticking to schedules and routines, and my mom gets easily overwhelmed in crowds. I just happened to be oh-so-lucky enough to inherit all of my relatives’ eccentricities. Not one person considered that I might’ve been autistic.
In recent years, more research has been done looking into females on the autism spectrum and how they differ from males. How we’re so good at fitting in that we don’t show the same stereotypical symptoms. In school, I had little problems making friends, which is unusual. But I often, and still do, felt like an alien being like, “What is the correct response to maintain friendship with this human?” I’ll literally ask others around me what to say or do, or just copy how they do things, which is how autism went incognito for many females.
Even though I made friends easily, I still had some social issues, especially with my Selective Mutism, which made me come off as rude or standoffish sometimes. Whenever I tried to explain them to people, many just wouldn’t get it. Teachers would try to help me get over my “quirks”, encouraging me to speak up or just work on it, which only made me more anxious. I mean, they’re not trained therapists. I don’t blame them though. At least, not most of them, the ones who didn’t make me “the girl who didn’t speak up in class”. Imagine explaining autism without ever mentioning the actual word. There are so many facets to it. Looking back, I feel like school would’ve gone so much easier if I had a diagnosis since people know what autism is.
I also had meltdowns whenever I got overwhelmed and have always been an extremely picky eater. School assemblies were torture chambers for me, so I would often avoid them and any other school event that involved loud noises and crowds. No one questioned this. As for my picky eating, it’s always highlighted when food is being served that I don’t like. Anything with strong smells and/or the wrong texture is hard for me to convince myself to eat. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve figured out ways to get around or over these two things, but it was still embarrassing when I was sitting in the library away from my classmates because they’re too much, or when I’m with a group that serves pizza and I eat something else or nothing at all.
Another common autistic trait that went under the radar was my special interests. But for me, my interests were quite usual for girls. I loved Paris growing up, I was obsessed with American Girl, went through a peculiar Full House stage in middle school, absolutely loved Glee in high school, and I’m currently a huge history and space nerd. And do NOT get me started with how my favorite movies were made! With many of these, I felt that it was weird to be obsessed with them, so I would try to be into them less so I could seem a little more normal, even if the only person who noticed and cared was me.
With all these traits, I thought I was just unusual. Not me, nor anyone else I knew, put the two and two together. What makes my situation different from many other women and girls is that, being disabled, I was constantly surrounded by doctors, therapists, and other people trained to recognize and work with autism. Heck, I even had so many autistic classmates! But it wasn’t until I reached my 20’s did I suspect that I was an undiagnosed autistic female.
YouTube, the glorious timewaster. I was clicking through videos, most likely procrastinating, and found a video on autism in females. Since this was a couple of years ago, I don’t remember exactly what it said, but it described me almost perfectly. I did more digging, feeling suspicious, all while hoping I wasn’t autistic because I didn’t want yet another thing to add to my list of many, many conditions. But it just made sense. The thing that made me go, “Okay, I’m autistic” was a comment section where a bunch of girls were talking about chewing their lips or the inside of their cheeks. It was so specific, as this has been a lifelong habit I’ve spent years trying to break, that it all just came together.
I really want to get an official diagnosis, so I don’t feel like I’m lying, but telling people has been so freeing. All of my “quirks” can be summed up in one word: autism. I no longer tried to hide them because they were so easy to explain. As soon as I accepted it, I no longer felt weird. I started using tips and hacks for autistic people and my life has been easier. I’m more confident now that I’ve accepted it. Now, it’s just a case of making it through the US healthcare system in its current, trainwreck-ish form to get that official stamp.
And for the record, not all autistic people are good with numbers. Don’t ask me the date or time of anything.
August Pritchett is a disability advocate, a young adult historical fiction writer, obsessed with the 19th and early 20th centuries.