As an autistic person, it saddens me just how low diagnosis is in our community, particularly among women, and LGBT+ folk. Over the last few years, the autistic community has seen a rise in self-diagnosis among these groups.
There continues to be this belief that self-diagnosis is not valid, because you are not qualified as a medical professional is, when it comes to mental health. The reason this has extended into the autism community is because the myth that autism is a mental health condition is still perpetuated today, to the annoyance of many of us.
When I talk about self-diagnosis I am talking only about self-diagnosis in the autistic community. Autism is not a mental health condition. It is neurodevelopmental.
Neurotypical people often believe that autistic people are mentally ill. When you conflate brain activity which results in social impairment to chemical imbalances that lead to conditions such as depression and anxiety, we run into a lot of difficulties.
Sometimes this comes from a place of ignorance. But at other times it is deliberate and carries a harmful intention. This is particularly true within communities that view autism as an epidemic that has been growing, rather than raised awareness leading to increasing diagnoses.
Calling autism an epidemic also gives this harmful idea that we can be cured, and it’s easy to see why. Epidemics are often associated with health conditions and right now we have a mental health crisis in the UK among young people, especially men.
But to reiterate for the 100th time, autism is not a mental health condition.
Now to get into the nitty gritty of self diagnosis, one has to observe the outdated criteria required for an official diagnosis. In autistic women, it ignores many aspects such as masking, and increased social awareness.
The autism research literature over the years has also ignored sensory issues in autism, which is illogical given that sensory difficulties also lead to difficulties in communication and interaction.
On speaking to individuals who have sensory issues, and feel that they should seek a diagnosis, the result has often been dismissal or outright denial by GPs or even psychologists. This is attributed to outdated National Institute for Health and Excellence (NICE) guidelines as well as outdated diagnoses tests such as the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ-10).
This year, a harmful discrepancy within the NICE guidelines was discovered. Rather than suggesting that a score of 6 and higher on the AQ-10 should mean the GP refers the patient, the guidelines read ‘higher than 6’ which means scores of 6 have actually been excluded.
These guidelines have been in place for years, and to me it is unacceptable that this ambiguity could have meant the difference between whether patients were referred for an autism diagnosis or not. It is a failure on the part of the health institute.
All these reasons, and many more, have led to people self-diagnosing with autism, and other neurodivergent conditions such as ADHD. The community welcomes these people with open arms, as they understand to a good extent what this experience is like.
Rather than blaming or shaming the individual for self-diagnosis, the onus should be on the health institutions to do better. That includes eliminating any ambiguities in the guidelines, as well as recognising sensory and perceptual issues in autistic people who have not been officially diagnosed.
Only then, will we be able to create a more welcoming environment for autistic and neurodivergent people, and make our society more accommodating and inclusive.
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