Autism Interview #163: James on Late Diagnosis and Autism Acceptance

James is a 77-year-old late-diagnosed, retired professor of psychology. James enjoys kayaking, walking and motorcycles. This week he shared his path to diagnosis and autism acceptance.

At what age were you diagnosed? What was that process like? What led you to seek out a diagnosis?

I was 70. My stepson was visiting and acted “differently.” At the same time my daughter was trying to teach a young man how to fold wonton. The young man was supposed to be ADHD, but no matter how many times she tried, he could not figure it out. So, I suggested autism. Then, as I read about it, my partner said that it sounded like I had autism. I was then tested and given the diagnostic label of “Aspergers.”

Have your relationships with family/friends or your partner changed since your diagnosis?

Yes. My partner had always said that our relationship was like a square peg in a round hole. It stressed the relationship to the point that I had to move out. I now live alone, and we get along much better. My children don’t think I am autistic. It’s not my job to convince anyone.

You’ve written about noticing a building of “us vs. them” (autistic verses allistic) thinking. In your opinion, what are some steps that could be taken to push both sides towards middle ground?

The neurodiversity movement has helped a lot. We are different, not sick. It is up to NTs to understand this. Education and not “therapy” is the key to better relationships. NT parents need to understand that there are no “cures.” Autism Today is partly responsible for the myth that autism can be cured. 

You’ve also written that “there is no rule that autistics have to behave like NTs. In fact, that is ableism.” Can you give a few examples of how you have been expected to act NT?

Because of not knowing about autism, my parents and society suppressed my “autistic “ behaviours. Stimming was punished, and isolation was forced (I always preferred to be alone). My intelligence was suppressed. Stimming is a helpful way to “burn off” excess energy. Respecting something like an over sensitive response to stimuli (e.g. noise, bright lights etc.) is important for generating safety. Acceptance is the key to good parenting of an autistic child.

You’ve mentioned after your diagnosis that your behaviors “began to be a lot more ‘autistic.'” Can you elaborate? Do you mean you noticed how autism affected your behaviors? Or you felt freer to express autistic behaviors? Or something else?

It has been reported that when an adult receives an autism diagnosis, they struggle with the cognitive dissonance generated by the diagnosis (or the label). For myself, I felt lost. I had mistakenly assumed that autism included an intellectual deficit. My ego couldn’t accept my diagnosis. This seemed to lead me deeper into my autism behaviour. I believe that I had difficulty dealing with everyday reality. This peaked when I was removed from my house as my partner felt that her safety was at risk. This was about five years ago. The adjustment was difficult at first. I had to have emergency surgery in 2017, and this seemed to be a big turning point. I now embrace my autism as who I am. Parents would be wise to celebrate their child’s autism.

Your blog mentions that you kayak frequently. What do you enjoy most about kayaking?

The sense of accomplishment, being with my partner and not having to talk, the sharing of nature’s beauty, the excitement of kayaking the Johnstone Strait, which is a bit dangerous, seeing the marine animals, and the fact that I kayak at my age (77).

What are you most passionate about or is there anything else you’d like to share that I didn’t ask you about?

I am passionate about everything I am interested in. My lifelong love of motorcycles, cars, sailing, writing, anything mechanical, and music.

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