Telling family that I am Autistic
I feel this is something that every autistic person can identify with. The how to tell family about your new diagnosis and how you think they will react to that news.
When an autistic person receives a diagnosis it can be very relieving to have this new piece of information. But there is also a process to this too. Mine started with being so incredibly happy to finally have the conformation that I was autistic, it then moved to hindsight. Looking back at my life wondering how I wasn’t picked up or noticed, especially during my secondary school, and looking back at certain challenges I faced and realising that it was me being autistic. I embrace my autism and the journey I have been on with it, but the one thing which was hard and unfortunately can’t be avoided is the telling of family. You are already juggling and processing your own diagnosis, so family is the last thing you think of.
I have lots of family. But I told them all in stages. At the beginning when I did the initial screening test, I told my immediate family, at this stage only my parents knew. Mum was helping me with the process so was very accepting and happy about this. My dad took a bit of time getting used to it. In the past him and I had a turbulent relationship but after a while he also was very accepting of it, and we have a much better relationship now.
In terms of friends, I told my closest friends they also were incredibly happy to know I was going to get the support I needed and knew how important this was to me. When I knew I was autistic, a very vivid feeling came over me. In secondary school I fell out with all my friends because of my autistic traits – which I did not know were traits. I had always found friendships hard; I have been bullied in the past because I am weird, but I embrace my weirdness and didn’t mind if I was different. Though some clearly did mind. In this group of friends was another diagnosed autistic person, when I said about my traits, they backed up the other friend and kicked me out, saying I was calling them all autistic. After that, they didn’t want anything to do with me. So, when I received my diagnosis, all I wanted to do was to say “I told you so” because this incident really set me back friendship wise, I never made any friends after that until I joined university. So, I spent my 2 years at college on my own.
I then avoided telling other members of my family because I wanted to wait until I had the official diagnosis, as at the time I was rather unsure as to whether I would get the diagnosis or not. One side of my family, I was the most worried about. As a family they didn’t really talk about feelings and they had known me since I was 2, so to suddenly say that they now had an autistic niece/grandchild was rather scary as I had no idea on how this would go down with them. Luckily, I have an aunty in this family who was really accepting and understood autism and what it meant for me, so I started off by telling her and then figuring out how to tell the rest of that family. Every year in September we all go on a weekend holiday together, all 14 of us. This has been happening for 16 years, so it is a great source of consistency and routine for me, and I just love it when all the family are together. Especially during the pandemic where I could not see them for months. Anyway, last year on this holiday, would be what I describe as an autistic nightmare. I have 3 younger cousins and they were all very loud and noisy which overwhelmed me. So, I wore my headphones, but as my family did not know I was autistic I did not feel comfortable enough to tell them this. Then one day at the beach, I wore comfortable clothes, but everyone picked on me because of what I was wearing but again no one knew this about me and finally, every evening we play bingo in the clubhouse but there’s always really loud music and I took my headphones because the noise was too much for me. Eventually, I went into shutdown, all my family noticed as they kept asking me ‘are you okay, you seem quiet’ but when I am in shutdown it is because everything is too overwhelming for me, and I cannot cope anymore. I knew that being able to tell my family I was autistic would help me cope but I did not feel like I could, not without the diagnosis anyway.
I eventually realised that I had to tell my family and quite soon as I didn’t want that to happen again, they needed to know at least the basics of my autism so they could begin to understand me. When I started my second year of uni, I then eventually had confirmation that I would be completing my assessment in November, so I knew that I would be able to tell them then. When I received my diagnosis, I had already planned who I was going to phone up immediately after, and that was my mum, aunty, friend and then dad. Everyone was incredibly happy to know that I was happy with it too. And then after a year of keeping it from them, I told the rest of my family. And that was supportive too, they didn’t mind that I was autistic because to them I was still me. I was glad I had done it, and even better was that they all still accepted me.
I know that telling family can be daunting to some people, especially if there is a risk of a negative response or no understanding. Maybe its better for some people to not disclose an autism diagnosis to some people but in my case I knew I had to and I’m glad I did.