OAR interviewed Nyla Cooper, a 2022 Synchrony Family Scholarship winner, and member of OAR’s Scholars’ Society, about the impact of mental health on her…
It is strange to grow up for most of your life not thinking of autism as a possibility, and then one day, you are told you have it. I needed someone to mention the idea of it for me to research it to see some similarities and then get a referral to get tested, and then bam, I now have autism.
Not only did this diagnosis feel weird to me, but it also felt wrong because I didn’t match the stereotype I saw growing up. And that is the problem. Autism has been portrayed a certain way throughout history, and often this excludes so many individuals like self-identifying females and nonbinary folks. Television talk shows would always show autistic self-identifying males and how because of autism, they couldn’t function well in society because they needed help from family and school, which made it seem like there was something “wrong” with being autistic and that it was unlikely someone like me could have it. And that is why I lacked confidence in my diagnosis for a while – because I didn’t believe that my diagnosis was accurate. Sure, I wasn’t like other kids, but that doesn’t mean I have autism, right?
At first, that belief led me to barely tell anyone about my diagnosis because I thought the doctor would call at any time and say, “Sorry, we made a mistake,” and nothing would be “wrong” with me. However, that never happened. I had to sit with this news, which was both uncomfortable and helpful at the same time. Sitting with that news gave me a lot of the confidence I needed in the diagnosis because as I looked back on my life, I was like, how was it not more evident to people I had autism? Hindsight is 20/20, though.
Finding confidence in your diagnosis can be challenging at first, especially if you are diagnosed later in life like me. So here are my top three tips:
Autism is a spectrum, and you might not have every trait that the media shows an autistic person “should” have according to them. This is especially the case for self-identifying women, nonbinary folks, people of color, and other folks who are not represented by most media around autism because of masking, suppressing your autism traits, or having them be mistaken for something else. Whether you are getting evaluated or self-diagnosing, feel free to write down your questions to ask the doctor or for you to research. Demystifying autism will help you gain confidence because you are learning more about how you express your autism.
Talk to Family or Chosen Family
When I found out I had autism, I talked to my mom about how I felt about it; this included discussing my fears with the diagnosis and the relief I felt. Talking with my mom helped because she would listen to me work stuff out when looking back on my life, and she also validated my feelings, making me trust how I felt my lived experience related to the autistic traits I have. Some people may not believe or acknowledge your autism, but that is not your fault or your responsibility. Make sure you talk to the people in your corner who believe you so you can gain your confidence.
Meet and Learn from Other Autistic People
Every autistic person is unique, and you can learn something from each person you meet. This expands how you view autism because you see how other folks have lived with their autism and thrived being themselves. Also, you will learn more about yourself because you will see how the traits you have are expressed in others, making you understand your own traits better. Watching videos of autistic self-identifying females describing how they experience autism made me feel less alone and gain a lot of confidence too.
If you had told me back in January 2021 that I would be confident in my autism diagnosis, I wouldn’t have believed you because I was filled with so much doubt and concern at that time. Using these tips and just reflecting on my life helped me, though, because it finally clicked that there is nothing wrong with me; I am just Grace, and that is great. With more autism awareness now than before, I hope more autistic folks become their most confident selves because you are fantastic and should be you no matter what anyone says.
Grace McGrath (she/they) is a graduate of the University at Albany class of 2020. They joined AmeriCorps VISTA after graduating and moved to Montana. After their service term ended they moved to Virginia to work at Marymount University. Grace wants to be an advocate for folks in the future, whether that is in higher education or another field. Overall, Grace hopes to make the world a better place, and they try to do that through their work and volunteering. Feel free to follow Grace on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram.