5 Reactions to a Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder

...and how you can use them to embrace your ASD.

Posted Jun 02, 2020

If you’re an adult who has recently received a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, or who has perhaps visited a therapist who has suggested you may be on the spectrum, you may be finding it hard to come to terms with. Perhaps you’re at the stage of reading and researching and are coming closer to a self-diagnosis of ASD. 

Whilst receiving a diagnosis—or coming to the conclusion of a self-diagnosis—can be a huge relief, it’s also a scary time for many people.

Here are some common reactions:

1. Fear

We’re quick to pick up on the things that people with ASD might find difficult, whether it’s making casual conversation or dealing with unpredictability. You may have realised for a long time that there are things you find difficult—but somehow, muddling through and trying to cope seems better than admitting that they are hard and that some things will always require more effort for you than they do for other people. Once you’ve received a diagnosis you may feel very scared. How are you going to live a normal life with ASD?

In fact, this is a great opportunity to reframe your fear into a time of potential. You can start off by asking yourself: What is it I am fearful of? Are you fearful about not fitting into a life which doesn’t suit you? How can you turn this around into realising that your diagnosis provides an explanation as to why aspects of your life don’t fit—and what you can do to create a life that does fit?

2. Relief

One of the biggest responses that people have to a diagnosis of ASD is relief. When you understand that there’s a reason for the way you act, think, and deal with life, it takes a huge amount of pressure and self-judgement off your shoulders. There’s also relief in knowing that you’re not the only person out there who finds certain things really difficult. There are plenty of others and, like you, they may have found ways of very effectively disguising their struggles. Take a moment or two to savour this sense of relief—you deserve it. 

3. Disgust

Sometimes when people receive an ASD diagnosis, they feel disgusted with themselves. ASD is often portrayed negatively and what most people know about it fails to encompass the very wide range of the spectrum and the people on it. Especially if you’ve grown up being called “weird” and feeling “odd” compared to others, having a label of ASD can feel like a confirmation of your weirdness. All those insults you had to put up with? They were right!

A diagnosis, far from being a relief, is, for some people an opportunity for them to feel ashamed and disgusted with themselves. It is important to know that ASD is an unbelievably wide spectrum. You’ve probably met plenty of people—diagnosed or otherwise—who have ASD. Whatever end of the spectrum you or anyone else is on, there’s nothing shameful in it. We need to start celebrating neurodiversity in all its shapes and colours. If you find yourself feeling disgusted at your diagnosis, take some time to identify all the skills and qualities you have which make you feel different. What value do they have? How does your ASD feed into the precious person you are?

4. Regret about the past

If you’re receiving a diagnosis as an adult, you may feel regretful about your past. You may feel sorry for your younger self who had to struggle so hard when a diagnosis may have helped you deal with life. You may worry about personal and professional choices you took earlier in life because, if you’d known how hard they were going to be for you, you would have made other choices.

Hindsight is a great thing and it’s important to let go of any blame of yourself—and others—who were unaware that you had particular needs. It’s also important to realise that all your past experiences—no matter how hard—feed into the person you are today. 

5. Acceptance

Somewhere down the line, when you’ve come to terms with any of the negative responses which accompany a diagnosis of ASD, you move to a point not only of accepting but of actually embracing the diagnosis. Far from being something which is going to hold you back, having ASD means that you probably have an ability to see the world in a way which gives you an advantage in several areas. You may well be fantastic at research, good at dealing with details, thorough, conscientious, and ethical. You may see things that other people don’t and have a unique—but very funny—sense of humour. Once you can embrace these differences, you can create a life that is wonderful and that respects your needs. 

It’s perfectly normal to struggle with a diagnosis of ASD. It’s important to take time to come to terms with it and to realise that, like any transitional stage, with self-patience and kindness you will be able to lead a more authentic life as a result of your diagnosis.