Nick McAllister is an autism advocacy writer from Australia. He blogs at Autistic Nick about a variety of autism-related topics, including late diagnosis. He is also the author of Autism Reflections, a book of personal essays about navigating life as an adult on the spectrum. This week Nick discussed his journey to embracing his Autistic identity after years without a diagnosis.
In what ways has having a diagnosis helped you accept yourself, as you mention in the about section of your website?
Four years ago, at the age of 40, I was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.
I had spent my whole life feeling like I didn’t fit in to society. As a kid, I was quite shy and socially awkward, so I would often spend the majority of my time on my own with my head in a book.
I was always the “odd one out” in groups, and I struggled to cope when there were changes to any routine.
When I finally got confirmation of my Autism diagnosis, I cried with relief.
I felt such a mixture of emotions.
A piece of the puzzle that had been missing for so long had been found, and I could now fully understand who I was as a person, and it helped me embrace who I am.
What made you decide to move to Australia from the U.K.?
I along with my family wanted a better life for us. It was as simple as that. I never really connected to be an Englander, and I felt a sense of disconnection to not only the UK, but to the lifestyle that I had. I didn’t feel as if I knew who the real me was, if that makes sense. I guess everyone around me was in on who the real me was, except me. Relocating to Australia meant that I could start my life all over again, no one knew me, and I could finally begin to enjoy my life and feel a sense of belonging that had previously been missing.
How would you rate autism acceptance in Australia or the community in which you live? Is general society knowledgeable, sensitive to, and willing to adapt to and support individuals on the spectrum?
I would say that Autism is very well accepted here in Australia. I’ve never really encountered any issues with my Autism. I feel that society still needs to accept that we exist and that we are a valuable contributing member of society, especially to business and the benefits that we can bring to them. Obviously more needs to be achieved, and we need to steer away from the stereotypical jobs that are so often attached to us, it’s just a case of employers embracing us and allowing us to show them what we can do, if we are allowed to have supports in place so that we can function in a business environment.
What are some things your parents, teachers, counsellors, doctors, peers, etc. have done (if anything) to help you learn to embrace your Autistic identity?
I have had to embrace my Autism all by myself. It was as if for forty years everyone was in on who I was apart from me. Maybe they shielded it from me, I’m not sure, or maybe they were afraid or unsure of how to broach the subject with me. I vividly remember my doctor in Brisbane (before I moved to Western Australia) telling me that I couldn’t possibly be Autistic– that it would have been picked up by now, and that it’s only existent in children and not forty-year-old men. Anyway, the upshot was that I got a referral and then the diagnosis came through, and I was right, and he was wrong. Typically, high functioning Autistics and women do what they call masking, whereby I would look at how someone else behaved and interacted with people and copy it to fit in so that no one would see that I wasn’t like them.
What do you wish more people understood about autism (or about you specifically)?
I wish they saw me as a person rather than someone with a disability. I have so much to offer, and yet I feel that my disability is a barrier to them, somehow it prevents them from seeing past the Autism. I would like to say to them, the Autism is part of me, but it doesn’t define me.
Who is your greatest ally and why?
My sister who is also disabled. She has a clearer, better understanding, and somehow due to our different disabilities she understands me, and we connect really well.
Any advice for parents of Autistic children who want to raise their children to positively embrace their Autistic identity as early as possible?
Personally I don’t have children, but I would say that yes, if parents feel that their child may be displaying Autistic traits, then I would encourage them to speak to their doctor and get a referral. The earlier that they can get a diagnosis, the better, and I would also encourage the parent/s to educate themselves by reading as much material as they can and join some local Autism groups.
Where you can find Nick: