“Am I Autistic?” A Guide to Navigating Questioning Your Neurotype

Reframing Autism Am I Autistic

If you’re reading this page, chances are that you’re wondering if you might be Autistic. Welcome!

Perhaps you’ve always had a suspicion. Maybe you know other neurodivergent people and recognise a lot of their traits in yourself. Or maybe someone in your life has suggested you may be Autistic. Whatever your reason, first of all, know that you are safe and welcome here, however you identify! If you think you may be Autistic, you might be wondering where to start to explore that idea – it can all seem a little overwhelming at first, and that’s okay!

First, there’s something you should know: there is no right or wrong way to come to the conclusion that you’re Autistic.

Some Autistic individuals explore their potential Autistic identity with a mental health professional and may end up formally identified or diagnosed. Other Autistic individuals explore their potential Autistic identity much more personally through research and resonance with other Autistic people’s experiences. Not every Autistic person has a formal diagnosis. Many of us self-diagnose or self-identify as Autistic based on our own personal research. Any route to your self-discovery is completely valid.

There are many reasons why one might not have or might not pursue a formal diagnosis – cost, accessibility, and availability are just some reasons. Whilst a formal diagnosis can be very helpful in using to apply for funding to help support you (if you are applying to the National Disability Insurance Scheme or NDIS, for example), a formal diagnosis isn’t necessary to tell you that you’re Autistic. However you arrive at the conclusion, you are valid, and you get to identify however you choose.

Read more: Learn about being Autistic

Finding clarity in exploring your identity

The journey to understanding your neurotype and identity is unique to you. For some, considering yourself through an Autistic lens will give immediate clarity and it will be clear that being Autistic is who you are, and explains so much of your past experiences. For others, the road will be less sure, and you may doubt or question your Autistic identity – and your non-autistic identity! – many times over before settling into a firm understanding of your neurotype.

For some, this journey will be a solo affair, just you and your brain. For others, it will be a collective journey, leaning on and learning from other late-identified Autists.

Others still will want to consider their identity with the support of a professional, like a psychologist and counsellor. For some, having the certainty of a formal diagnosis will be vital. For others, self-identifying will be either preferable or necessitated by the many barriers to professional diagnosis.

However you find clarity about your identity is absolutely valid, and you are welcome in our community as you explore the way you are in the world.

Read more: Understanding your neurotype

Understanding the spectrum

There are lots of characteristics and traits that are associated with being Autistic, and it’s important to remember that the vast majority of Autistic people  won’t display every single characteristic. But we hope this section might provide you with some areas in which you could consider your own functioning, capacity and preferences. We hope this will help to guide you in some small way.

We think it is helpful to think of Autism as a colour wheel or prism, instead of as a linear spectrum. When we think of a linear spectrum, we often want to categorise people into a binary of “more” or “less” Autistic. This isn’t an accurate representation of the complexity of our experiences at all!  You may have very strong Autistic characteristics in one area (e.g., sensory differences), but have less marked characteristics in another (e.g., executive functioning).

Indeed, your Autistic characteristics are likely to change depending on the context, both internal (e.g., when you’re tired versus when you’re well rested) and external (e.g., when you’re in a safe place with safe people versus when you’re in an overwhelming environment).

Importantly, each Autistic person will experience their strengths and challenges completely differently to other Autistic people.

Read more: Understanding the spectrum

Identifying your Autistic characteristics

There are some Autistic characteristics that you might have identified in yourself, including:

  • Finding superficial conversation or “small talk” difficult (e.g., do you find it easy to chat with your colleagues about the weather, or share niceties with other parents at school pick up?)
  • Speaking in a flat affect or a monotone voice, or speaking with unusual volume, accent or unexpected variety (e.g., do people often mistake your tone of voice or note that you are loud?)
  • Using repetitive words and phrases (e.g., do you like to quote TV shows, movies or music lyrics when chatting with others, or do you rely heavily on pre-prepared scripts when you’re in social situations?)
  • Having intense interests that you’re very passionate about (e.g., have you had a particular passion about which you’re considered an expert, or do you often change passions, but you want to know everything about a particular topic in which you’re interested?)
  • Finding it challenging to read or understand the tone, body language or facial expressions of others, or having difficulty using these methods to express your own emotions (e.g., do you find it difficult to work out when someone is joking or sarcastic, or do people misunderstand when you are joking?)
  • Being a literal thinker (e.g., does idiom confuse you… like are you more concerned about the birds than the meaning when someone uses the phrase “kill two birds with one stone”?)
  • Seeing details, characteristics, and patterns in the world around you that others may miss (e.g., do you often point out changes in your environment that other people haven’t even noticed?)
  • Enjoying routine and consistency, and finding change challenging (e.g., do you rely on routines in your daily life to ensure things are done in a way that makes you feel comfortable, like eating the same foods or travelling the same route to work or parking in the same place at the shops?)
  • Experiencing difficulty regulating your emotional responses, especially if distressed, and sometimes finding yourself shutting down or melting down (e.g., do you become overwhelmed by too many people speaking at once, and feel like screaming because you don’t know who to listen to, or which sound is most important?)
  • Experiencing sensory differences (e.g., do you feel physically ill with certain smells, or find loud and competing noises hurt your head, or need sunglasses to cut out the glare even when others don’t seem to notice?)

Of course, this is a brief list, and for more information, you can click the button below to learn more about the differences in communication, socialising, thinking and processing that are common for Autistic people.

Read more: Autistic characteristics

Demystifying diagnosis

If you think you have some Autistic characteristics, you might question why you would consider getting assessed at this stage in your life. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer to this question, it is a personal decision.

Regardless of whether you get a formal diagnosis, if you self-identify as Autistic, you are welcome in the Autistic community. Diagnosis is a privilege and your decision to pursue one will depend on many variables (it is often expensive, time-consuming, and dependent upon access to knowledgeable and experienced diagnosticians who can understand the nuanced Autistic presentations). Not having a formal diagnosis doesn’t make you any less Autistic.

There are, nevertheless, some benefits to getting a professional diagnosis for some people, such as:

  • It may help you to receive any appropriate funding, support and help you might need
  • Your family, friends and colleagues (if you choose to tell them) may be able to better understand you and your needs, and it may allow them to support you more effectively
  • You may have a more structured way to explore and better understand yourself and your experiences throughout your life until now
  • You may have some trauma or co-occurring mental health challenges intertwined with your Autism, and a professional can help you unpack these

If you decide to pursue a formal diagnosis, this will involve appropriately qualified health professionals gathering and considering a range of historical, current and developmental information against the criteria for Autism. Some Autistic people say that the diagnostic process itself is liberating and enlightening. Others find it a draining, expensive, and challenging process. Much of your experience of the process depends on how neuro-affirming your diagnostician or diagnostic team are.

There are several options to getting a diagnosis, primarily:

  • Booking an appointment with your GP and letting them know you’re interested in an Autism assessment – they can refer you to the appropriate diagnostic professionals, or
  • Self-referring yourself to a psychologist or psychiatrist that offers Autism assessments.

In Australia, there are a number of government-funded services that specialise in the assessment and diagnosis of Autism, and these organisations usually operate by referral from your GP.

There are also many private practitioners and organisations that conduct these assessments on a fee-paying basis. The cost of assessment can be burdensome for many people, and each clinic will offer varying fee structures and payment options – so “shopping around” and finding the best option for you is often necessary.

There are two sets of Autism diagnostic criteria commonly used throughout Australia and the world:

  • The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (currently in its fifth edition – DSM-5). Autism is defined in two “domains” – social communication on the one hand, and restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours (including sensory differences) on the other. The DSM-5 is written in a way that frames Autism as a disorder and Autistic behaviours as impairments, deficits and abnormalities. A good neuro-affirming clinician will be able to explain the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria to you in a way that removes this medical frame and assess your support needs holistically and within the contexts of your strengths and challenges.
  • The World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases (currently in its 11th edition – ICD-11). The ICD-11 requires clinicians to specify the presence and extent of intellectual and language impairment, along with the impact on areas of functioning.

Assessment tools often use a series of questions, in-person observations, and clinical interactions to support a professional diagnosis of Autism.

Depending on your needs, your health professional will gather information about your medical and health history as well as your:

  • Developmental and educational history. You may be asked about your development and experiences as a child and teenager, across different life domains (e.g., social, educational).
  • Autism-specific signs and/or traits. You may be asked about behaviours, preferences, and feelings relating to social communication and interactions, and you may explore any of your traits that might suggest you meet the criterion around “restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour and interest”.
  • Other relevant behaviours, signs and/or traits. You may be asked about the presence of any co-occurring conditions and/or differential diagnosis that might better explain Autism-like traits.

The diagnostic professional may also discuss your mental health. It is important that you answer these questions as honestly and openly as you can, so that your assessor can get a full understanding of your health.

Research tells us that a range of mental health conditions are common among Autistic adults. These can include depression, anxiety (including social anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD) and thoughts of suicide. If you are experiencing symptoms of any of these conditions, your doctor will be able to refer you to appropriate professionals for further investigation and support.

In preparing for an Autism assessment, or deciding if an assessment is the right option for you, you may like to ask any health professionals some important questions to help you decide.

We recommend asking the following questions, as a starting point. You might like to request this information in writing so that you have sufficient time to process and analyse its potential impact on you:

  • What is going to be involved in getting an assessment?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • When will I find out if I am Autistic?
  • What will happen if I am Autistic? What will happen if I’m not Autistic?
  • Will a report be developed? Will I get a copy? How long will this take?
  • Will the report be passed onto anyone else?
  • Will the report help me to apply for supports, funding or other accommodations if necessary?
  • Will the assessment give information about my strengths and how can they be maximised?
  • Are there any other assessments that might be useful?
  • How will the results influence the supports I can access?
  • Do you have any articles or resources on Autism?

Self-identification

Self-identification is very personal, and the pathway will be unique to each person. Most Autistic people who self-identify as Autistic come to the conclusion that they are Autistic after doing lots of research and reflection, and may not feel that pursuing a formal diagnosis is necessary for them.

This research and reflection can include:

  • Reading articles and resources that explain Autism (especially those by Autistic people themselves), and thinking about if and how the characteristics apply to you,
  • Listening to Autistic voices and hearing the discovery stories of Autistic people to see if their perspectives resonate with you or feel descriptive of your life too, and
  • Spending time in neurodivergent communities (either online or in-person) where you can ask questions and gain direct insight from others who have been where you are right now.

There’s no right or wrong way to go about self-identification and, like any identity, you get to say who you are and how you identify.

You may feel that you have a lot of Autistic traits, but choose not to identify as an Autistic person. That’s okay. You may also feel that you’re inherently Autistic, or have a gut feeling or a sense of “knowing” upon realising that you might be Autistic, regardless of how many traits you have. That’s okay too!

Ultimately, you get to decide who you are and how you identify yourself, and no one else can make that decision for you.

Navigating mixed feelings

It’s perfectly normal, and perfectly valid, to having mixed feelings upon discovering that you’re Autistic.

For some people, it’s pure elation and a feeling of coming home to themselves. For others, the dominant feeling can be frustration, guilt or even shame.

However you feel, know that it’s okay to feel your feelings. Your feelings are yours alone and there’s no right or wrong way to feel right now. It’s our hope that by sharing Autistic experiences and perspectives, you can learn more about yourself and why you’re awesome.

If you’re struggling with how you’re feeling, we highly encourage you to reach out to a trusted professional – a family doctor, therapist, counsellor or psychologist can point you in the right direction and give you strategies to manage any distressing feelings that you might be having. Even trying something like art therapy might help you to process through your feelings!

Many people who suspect that they may be Autistic may also wind up discovering that they’re not Autistic after all… that’s entirely okay (obviously)!

In the process of coming to that conclusion, you’ve learned some more about Autism and potentially made some cool new Autistic friends online or in-person.

Discovery of one’s identity is an ongoing process – and if you decide that maybe you’re not Autistic, hopefully the information you learned along the way better equips you to understand yourself. Perhaps you may like to consider researching other neurodivergences (such as ADHD) that could apply to you, or mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and OCD (which also co-occur in many people who are Autistic, or have once suspected that they are Autistic).

Knowledge is power, and we fully believe in and celebrate the autonomy of the individual to take charge of learning more about themselves so they can better cater to what helps them thrive in their life – whatever that means for them, and however they identify.

Next steps

There is no right or wrong way to start on your journey of self-discovery of your own Autistic (or other neurodivergent) identity – you can take whichever steps you need and in whichever order you need! Realistically, the journey of self-discovery never ends, so this is just the beginning!

As we learn more about ourselves and embrace our Autistic identity more and more, we will invariably uncover greater ways to advocate for ourselves and our communities.

Here are some possible first steps that you might like to consider, in no particular order:

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Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

The Reframing Autism team would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we have the privilege to learn, work, and grow. Whilst we gather on many different parts of this Country, the RA team walk on the land of the Birpai, Awabakal, Wattamattagal, Whadjak, Amangu, Bunurong and Kaurna Yarta peoples.

We are committed to honouring the rich culture of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of this Country, and the diversity and learning opportunities with which they provide us. We extend our gratitude and respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and to all Elders past, present, and emerging, for their wisdom, their resilience, and for helping this Country to heal.

Join us on the journey to reframe how society understands Autism