I’ve heard it said by allistics (non-Autistics) that people who are late-diagnosed Autistic just “want to be unique” or “think we’re special.” This is sometimes even theorized as the reason we go in to be evaluated as adults.
Let’s ignore the fact that many of us struggled, floundered, and failed for many years before gaining the courage to be evaluated. Or that we were recognized as Autistic by a friend, family member, or (in my case) boss, which means that we weren’t coping as well with life as we maybe thought we were.
Instead, let’s look at this “wanting to be unique” claim head on.
To begin with, and ironically enough, learning about autism and being diagnosed (at least for me) were pretty much the opposite of wanting to be unique. In my research and subsequent diagnosis, I learned how not-unique I was. I found a large community of people to whom I could relate on a very fundamental level. I’d never had that feeling before.
Discovering autism and other Autistic people was like coming home. I found other people who were like I was! My life story isn’t nearly as unique as I’d thought it was. Even though the details differ, every time I read something written by an Autistic person, I can relate at a deep level to their experience of the world. This is true regardless of the other person’s speaking-status or alleged “functioning level.”
I think that part of the reason people bring up the idea of us wanting to be unique or “special” is that folks who are part of the majority tend to glamorize being different. Maybe they think it would be cool or exciting or fun to be different from everyone else. Now, in some ways it is, but it’s really not that simple.
For most Autistics, it can be a mixed experience to be different. Some of our differences are lauded/praised while other differences make us a target for ridicule and abuse. It can be very confusing to have part of ourselves raised up on a pedestal while other parts are denigrated and looked down upon by nearly everyone we meet.
Being visibly different as part of a minority is not always, or even usually, experienced as a positive thing. This is even true when you don’t know that you’re part of a minority and you just think you’re a lone weirdo who messes everything up and can’t handle humaning as well as most other humans appear to. It’s often a very isolating experience.
Now, yes, many of us have made the best of the situation over our lifetimes. We will come up with reasons why it’s awesome to be different and will put on a cloak of not-caring, which can sometimes become truth. Some of us care more than others. Sometimes it’s easier to not care than other times. Most of us do care, at least a little.
My entire life was filled with attempts to blend in and not stick out. When those failed, I resigned myself to being different and unique: a mixed experience filled with both joys and torments. I embraced as many of my differences as possible and tried to care as little as possible when I ended up in trouble or traumatic situations due to my differences.
It’s understandable that someone unfamiliar with that experience might glamorize it. It’s also understandable that someone who has felt different their entire life, but is resistant to finding an explanation, might see the desire to find a label as a weakness or seeking of some sort of special privileges.
But, whatever else it may be, getting my evaluation had nothing to do with wanting to be unique. I already had led most of my life as a misfit of one sort or another. I only wanted an explanation, yet I came out of my evaluation with so much more than a diagnosis! I came out of it with the knowledge that others had lived similar lives and could understand my experiences.
Getting an autism evaluation as an adult and being diagnosed Autistic as an adult caused me to feel less unique. I’m ever so much less unique than I had thought before I learned about autism and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Being diagnosed also happily caused me to feel less isolated, more connected, to others. I’m not alone, I’m one of very many and now I can find them!
It’s so good to have an explanation and be less unique ❤