“What? A relief?”
Yes, really — what a relief it has been to find out I am autistic! To learn that all my life there has been a reason for the feelings of confusion and “otherness” that have followed me. To finally find out that I am not alone in these feelings, to discover I have a community, and to learn some of the names for that community: Autistic. Aspie. On the spectrum.
Sure, there are other emotional reactions that often follow, and different people will react differently. But a very common reaction among adults who discover that they are on the autism spectrum is a deep sense of relief. This relief can be confusing to others, however, because they only see the difficulties inherent to autism, the ways in which it is a disability in our society. They have learned that autism is a tragedy that causes nothing but problems in the lives of autistic people and the lives of those around them.
And of course, there are problems — but one reason for the relief is that we’ve known those problems all along. We’ve been outsiders, alienated from our peers by communication difficulties. We’ve gotten overwhelmed in loud, bright public spaces to the point of shutting down. We’ve been told, over and over, that we’re just not trying hard enough. We’ve lived with these issues, struggled with them, and blamed ourselves for them all our lives. The fact that we have problems is not new information. What is new is the context.
Finding a reason for all those struggles helps pull us out of self-blame. Suddenly all the things we (and likely those around us) interpreted as personal failings are…not. We suddenly have an explanation for all the things that seemed so easy to other people but overwhelming to us. And we can finally acknowledge that those struggles have been real.
How can that not be a relief?