Since writing An Autistic SLP’s Experiences with Social Communication for the Therapist Neurodiversity Collective, multiple SLPs have contacted me for more information because the article resonated so strongly with them. It's common for autistic women or minorities to be misdiagnosed or go without a diagnosis and support until adulthood.
Most of the SLPs that reached out wanted to know how I came to the realization that I was autistic, whether it changed anything for me, my husband’s reaction, and what their next steps should be in learning more about autism or getting a diagnosis of their own.
How I Recognized that I Am Autistic
I initially thought I was a “highly sensitive person” after reading a book about the trait, as well as an introvert. But, this didn't explain why certain things seemed much more difficult for me than they did for others. I joined a few autistic-led groups on Facebook to learn about autism from autistic people, with the goal of becoming a better SLP for my autistic clients. Over time, as I asked questions and described my own experiences, group members started suggesting that I may be autistic too. As I read through everyone’s posts and comments, I constantly thought “I do all of that, but I’m not autistic.” It took some time for it all to click, but I finally realized “I do all of that because I’m autistic.” Most members of autistic-led groups are welcoming and supportive, and they want to educate others about autism. They gave me information about autism (not “textbook” autism, but the real, lived experience of autism) that broadened my understanding of what it really is. I have all of the core characteristics of autism, but I never recognized it in myself because I only had a stereotypical idea of what it “looked” like (i.e. young, white males with stereotypical, observable behaviors). I can never thank the autistic community enough for helping me along the way. It’s empowering and validating to find and connect with your neurokin (a term I love and hear autistic advocate Kristy Forbes use a lot).
Does Knowing I Am Autistic Change Anything?
Yes! I had so much internalized ableism, and I pushed myself to meet expectations that I would never meet. The problem with not knowing you’re autistic is that you work so hard to be non-autistic without even realizing it. It’s an impossible goal, it’s exhausting, and it eventually leads to burnout. Because the default way of being is neurotypical, autistic people are conditioned to think, communicate, behave, etc. in ways that contradict our natural way of being. We grow up viewing ourselves through the wrong lens and being robbed of our authenticity, rather than understanding and growing into our neurodivergent identities.
Now that I know I’m autistic, I’m much more kind to myself, more accepting of my challenges, more appreciative of my strengths, and I understand my needs better. I’m learning to validate and honor my needs, set boundaries, and advocate for myself more often. I feel like a better wife as well. In situations where I used to think I was angry at my husband, I now realize I’m very dysregulated or overwhelmed. I can usually (but not always) communicate that to him and focus on getting regulated instead of taking it out on him. I’m better at identifying my triggers, getting rest, and using sensory supports so I shut down less often (though significant dysregulation and shutdowns are inevitable sometimes).
Knowing I’m autistic has also helped me redefine my SLP career. After grad school, I never liked any of my jobs. I found it difficult to manage the social demands, overwhelming workloads, and overstimulating environments of various work settings. In grad school, I loved aphasia and literacy, but the average SLP job requires you to be a “jack of all trades.” This doesn’t fit my interest-driven, autistic neurology. It was overwhelming needing to know something about so many different areas of the field, and I was incredibly uninterested in some of those areas (i.e. articulation therapy). I want to know a lot about and be really great at a few specific things (special interests). I love aphasia, developmental language, literacy, and autism, and now my practice exclusively serves these populations.
My Husband’s Reaction
My husband is the most laid-back person I know, which is exactly what I need. When I told him I think I may be autistic, he casually replied “okay if that’s what you think, I support you,” like it was no big deal. He had some questions later, but he was always accepting and understanding. A couple of family members said there was no way I could be autistic because there was nothing wrong with me (as if autism is a horrible thing). I find most people don’t know what autism really is and they’re fearful of it, so they need to be taught that it’s just a difference in neurology (neurodiversity), not a terrible disease or disorder. Autism is a normal and valid way of experiencing the world, but it’s been pathologized and feared for decades. It takes time for some people to gain a better understanding of it, so don’t get discouraged by that.
Information from #ActuallyAutistic People
(use this hashtag on social media to find autistic-led pages and resources)
To get the most accurate information about autism, it's best to seek guidance from autistic people themselves. Autism is a lived experience that's best understood by listening to and learning from autistic people. Our behavior and ways of thinking are often misunderstood and pathologized by non-autistic people, including professionals (because most autism research does not include autistic insights and experiences). So before seeking professional opinions, I recommend taking the time to learn from other autistic adults. Broaden your understanding of autism and determine whether autistic experiences relate to your own. Self-diagnosis is valid within the autistic community (because there are so many barriers to getting a diagnosis). After connecting with and learning from the autistic community, you'll be better equipped to advocate for yourself if you want to seek an official diagnosis.
Females with Aspergers Syndrome: A Checklist by Samantha Craft (while this article is aimed toward women, it is important to note that autism has no gender and there is no "female autism;" women and BIPOC are overlooked due to biased, outdated, and flawed diagnostic criteria)
Authenticity and Autism (masking/camouflaging)
Yo Samdy Sam (a late-diagnosed autistic woman that discusses autism and neurodiversity)
FACEBOOK GROUPS (for medically or self-diagnosed people, or those who suspect they are autistic)
Surprise! You’re Autistic! (for people over 30ish or diagnosed “well into adulthood”
Autistic Speech-Language Pathologists/Therapists (students welcome)
Kaylen Randall, MS, CCC-SLP received her degree in speech-language pathology from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She is an openly autistic SLP in Pensacola, FL. Kaylen specializes in aphasia, literacy, developmental language delays, and neurodiversity-aligned support for autistic individuals. Additional information about Kaylen and her practice can be found at www.facebook.com/KaylenRandallSLP.