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  • Claire Jack Ph.D.

"Am I Too Old for an Autism Diagnosis?"

Receiving an autism diagnosis at any age can be life-transforming.

Am I Too Old for an Autism Diagnosis?

  • People are increasingly being diagnosed with autism in adulthood.

  • Older adults sometimes question whether it is worthwhile seeking out a diagnosis.

  • An autism diagnosis later in life can help people gain awareness about their past.

  • An autism diagnosis later in life can help people identify their needs and adapt behaviors accordingly.


I work with clients from their late teens into their late 70s. One question some of my older clients ask, particularly those over the age of 60, is whether there’s any point in pursuing an autism diagnosis at their age. After all, they’ve already lived an entire life without knowing.


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The reality is that living with undiagnosed autism is challenging. Many undiagnosed autistic adults, particularly older adults who grew up in an era of increased ignorance and reduced acceptance of autism, camouflage their autistic traits heavily. Camouflaging, or masking, involves hiding the traits that are most likely to reveal you as autistic and hiding the levels of anxiety and discomfort you experience in social situations and as the result of sensory or emotional overwhelm.


Camouflaging is linked with mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and suicidality.1 So while these older adults have gotten through life thus far, it’s often been tough to do so.


Receiving a diagnosis offers the potential of a life where you recognize and respect your needs as different and valid. It allows you to re-evaluate past experiences—perhaps, for example, being bullied and ostracized for being different, which is commonly experienced by autistic people. 2 A diagnosis also allows you to access the correct type of medical and therapeutic support and can help you better explain your experiences to your friends and colleagues.


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Some of my clients who have received a diagnosis later in life have shared the impact of their diagnosis with me. Mandy, 62, told me, “I have truly never felt the way I do now. It’s as if I’ve been waiting all my life for something and now I have it. It’s down to feeling validated and understanding all these parts of my past that had been a mystery up until now.”


Sarah, 74, described the change in her life since being diagnosed as autistic. “I don’t really have the words to describe how the diagnosis has changed my life. It’s everything. I can breathe easier. I’m kinder to myself. I’ve stopped putting myself out there all the time for my adult children and I take time for my interests. I feel like I can make this phase of my life one of the best.”


Anthea, 76, told me, “I didn’t tell a soul I was going for a diagnosis. I was terrified about the whole process. I thought people would think I was ridiculous at my age. I thought I was ridiculous! But knowing I’m autistic is the single best thing I’ve ever done. I’m finally learning to be kind to myself, to accept myself. And that’s huge, after a whole lifetime of thinking I’m a failure.”


A diagnosis at any stage in life doesn’t always provide what autistic people might expect, particularly concerning accessing post-diagnostic support, including therapy. In addition, accessing a diagnosis isn’t always easy. Yet as my clients’ experience above reveals, it can create a significant shift in perspective, which often leads to self-awareness and supportive changes in behavior.


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If the issue that’s holding you back from pursuing a diagnosis is your age, don’t let it be. Age shouldn’t be a barrier to improving your quality of life.



Claire Jack, Ph.D., - Website -


References


1. Beck, J. S., Lundwall, R. A., Gabrielsen, T., Cox, J. C., & South, M. (2020). Looking good but feeling bad: “Camouflaging” behaviors and mental health in women with autistic traits. Autism, 24(4), 809-821.


2. Neil Humphrey & Judith Hebron (2015) Bullying of children and adolescents with autism spectrum conditions: a ‘state of the field’ review, International Journal of Inclusive Education, 19:8, 845-862, DOI: 10.1080/13603116.2014.981602

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