Older, undiagnosed, women, frequently find that their families / friends have fallen into the habit of viewing their differences in particularly negative and unflattering ways that detract from their ability to view themselves as potentially Autistic.
They often experience the indignity of hearing family members, both young and old, refer to them as “lazy”, “weird”, “odd’, “anti-social”, “hard to get along with”, “overly sensitive”, “moody” and “unreasonable” people.
The impacts of being viewed in this way, by the very people who are meant to love and accept you, cannot be discounted.
Especially since these impacts often serve only to further confuse those women who already sense that are ‘different’ from others, yet hold no explanation as to why or how this should be so.
Being continuously discredited in such a way by their family, not only undermines an undiagnosed Autistic woman’s self-confidence, but it also makes it harder for her to believe that there may be a legitimate reason for her experience of ‘difference’.
As a result, many undiagnosed women describe the sensation of ‘teetering of the edge” of self-awareness and acceptance, yet, still never quite being able to commit fully to the belief that they may be different for any reasons, other than the ever burgeoning list of negatives they’ve become accustomed to hearing.
For this reason, many undiagnosed women, quite literally feel that they require a formal diagnosis in order for their family and friends to accept that their “odd” behaviors are the result of sensory and processing differences and not the result of a wilfully lazy, or ignorant mind.
And therein lies the rub.
When a woman who’s not only perceived herself as being different in some unknown, unnamed kind of way her entire life, but has also received multiple negative messages from those around her for those differences, becomes brave enough to ask to be assessed for Autism, she is often confronted with a yet another litany of negative messages.
Even the term “seeking a diagnosis” which is very similar to another term also applied to women, “attention seeking”, makes it sound as if women are going out of their ways to “seek” a diagnosis.
Yet often the truth of the matter is that women are not doing this.
They are seeking answers and they do so usually, only after months, or even years of contemplation and research.
Most women are therefore aware of the fact that they may be Autistic long before they contact a psychologist.
Yet despite their high levels of self-awareness and Autism related knowledge, they find that form the very moment they sit in front of a psychologist and state that they “feel different to everyone else,” they are confronted with a pre-ordained set of red flags that go up in a psychologists mind, upon hearing those very words.
To this end, most psychologists will settle into the task, not of assessing these women for Autism, but of looking for any signs that the women concerned may be mentally ill, delusional, attention seekers.
Now let’s just stop and consider that last sentence for a minute and ask ourselves why it should be that any woman, upon requesting an assessment for Autism, should first find herself in the predicament of having to address a psychologists immediate concerns that she may be mentally ill, before any Autism assessment can take place.
There seems to be something wrong with a diagnostic process in which the first step serves to scare, intimidate or cause doubt in the minds of women, due to the fact that it often reinforces all of the negative ideations they’ve grow accustomed to hearing about themselves from their families.
For this reason, some women will become consumed with either fear or self-doubt and choose to end the diagnostic process before it’s even begun.
Those who continue on, do so under the weight of the understanding that, regardless of whether or not they are found to have Autism, they will most likely to be labelled with something, simply by virtue of the fact that they are continuing on within a diagnostic process that is designed to find something amiss.
The practice of conducting Autism assessments in such a manner may also explain why there are currently so many different, co-occurring psychological conditions, associated with Autism.
If we note the precarious position that any woman is placed in when “seeking” an Autism assessment, and add this to the already well-established past propensity of psychologists to either miss of dismiss, the signs and symptoms of Autism in women, we can begin to see why many formally undiagnosed Autistic women view the diagnostic process as being far more fraught with potential hazards than with potential answers.
Hence, undiagnosed Autistic women, often find themselves situated between a rock and a hard place, as they often urgently require the validity of a diagnosis in order for their family and friends to take their concerns, feelings and experiences seriously.
Yet, in order to attain that diagnosis, they must willingly submit themselves to the critical gaze of a psychologist, whose first point of call is to assess, not whether they have Autism, but whether or not they are mentally ill.
Is this fair?
Yet this is the way it is for adults, especially women, who wish to be assessed for Autism.
And unfortunately it gets worse.
Within the diagnostic process the psychologist holds all of the power.
Psychologists are human beings, and just like the rest of us; they go about their days complete with their own sets of values, beliefs, likes and dislikes, skills and flaws.
So whilst they may be certified to practice, that certification in and of itself, holds no guarantee what so ever, as to whether or not they are up to date with current studies regarding female Autism, or even whether or not they are ethical human beings.
The idea of trusting a complete stranger becomes even more of an issue for women wishing to be assessed for Autism as they too often find themselves in the un-enviable position of being forced to entrust their most vulnerable selves to a person of whom they hold no understanding or awareness, beyond the context of office walls.
This is no mean feat.
Especially considering that clients (female and male) do not find out whether or not that trust has been misplaced until after all of the assessments have been carried out.
It is only at the end of the diagnostic process, once all the fees have been charged and the bills paid, that a woman may discover whether or not her diagnostic trust has been well placed.
If it has been well placed, then a diagnosis of Autism may be given.
Should it transpire that a diagnosis of Autism be considered unwarranted, then there will be no further diagnostic decision made about any woman, without the express consent of the woman concerned.
If a woman’s trust has been misplaced, then the ramifications and consequences of being misdiagnosed with a condition that not only exasperates her difficulties, but further encourages others to dismiss her, may prove disastrous.
And still, even in some situations where a diagnosis of Autism is given, a woman may still find herself in the situation of having inappropriate and/or highly personal information about herself, divulged to third parties without their consent, due to an overall lack of ethical practice on the part of the psychologist.
The diagnostic process may not be for everyone, but for those who need or want to pursue it, it’s best to go into it with eyes wide open.
Completely aware that despite the many improvements that have occurred regarding our understandings of Women with Autism, there are never, ever, any guarantees.