Are you familiar with the term “imposter syndrome”?

It’s that nagging feeling of doubt, making you question if you truly belong or if you’ve somehow “faked” your way into your current situation. For adults undergoing neurodivergence assessment, this sentiment can be particularly prominent and unsettling.

During the assessment process, it’s not uncommon to wrestle with self-doubt. Many grapple with concerns between appointments and awaiting results like, “Am I being honest?” or “Am I just overthinking things?” You might even compare your experiences to others, pondering if your struggles are “valid” enough.

But here’s the twist. Once you receive a diagnosis, these feelings don’t magically vanish. Some individuals continue to wrestle with thoughts like, “Did I trick the psychologist?” or “Did I exaggerate my symptoms?” The post-diagnosis phase can bring about its own set of unique challenges.

For neurodivergent individuals, these feelings often manifest as imposter syndrome. From social anxiety to sensory processing issues, many autistic adults feel like they are not “true” members of the community due to their differences.

That’s why it’s so crucial for this group to recognize imposter syndrome when it arises and develop coping strategies that help them move through – rather than stay stuck in – these moments of self-doubt.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Here’s the good news: if you feel that you are not good enough or don’t belong, you are likely experiencing a very common phenomenon known as imposter syndrome. In short, this is when someone doubts their accomplishments and attributes success to luck rather than hard work.

Here are just a few of the many ways that imposter syndrome can manifest itself:

  • The fear of being exposed as a fraud or a phony: Ever heard the phrase “fake it until you make it”? That’s the very essence of imposter syndrome.
  • Low self-esteem and poor self-image: This can show up in a variety of ways, such as an inability to accept compliments or an overwhelming fear of failure.
  • Intense perfectionism and procrastination: Inability to start or complete tasks and projects on time.
  • Overworking: Feeling the need to work harder than necessary in order to prove yourself or gain approval from others.

While everyone can suffer from imposter syndrome, those who are neurodivergent may be more prone to it due to their unique sensitivities and social needs. It’s crucial for neurodivergent individuals to learn how to identify these feelings of self-doubt before they become too overwhelming.

The Reality of Imposter Syndrome during Assessments

The period between assessment appointments and the final delivery of results can be a time of significant emotional turbulence for many individuals. It’s not uncommon for people to second-guess themselves during this waiting period.

Self-doubt may creep in, causing individuals to question the honesty of their responses during assessments. They may even wonder if the descriptions of neurodivergent behavior excessively influenced what they have read about or heard, leading to unintentional exaggeration or misrepresentation of their own experiences.

Comparing oneself to others also becomes common during this period. Since neurodivergence can manifest in a variety of ways, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution. The different paths that each individual takes can also be a source of anxiety, as it’s easy for someone to feel “left behind” in comparison to their peers.

Everyone’s experience with the disorder is unique, and comparing oneself to others can intensify the feelings of being an imposter. Some may feel they don’t ‘fit’ the typical profiles they’ve learned about, which can bring uncertainty and confusion.

Navigating these feelings can be challenging and draining. However, recognizing that these feelings are often a part of the process can help manage them. Individuals must remember that their experiences are valid and that the assessment is not about fitting a particular mold but understanding their unique needs and experiences.

Navigating Imposter Syndrome: Practical Tips

Here are a few practical tips to navigate the feelings of imposter syndrome during your assessment journey:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings: It is perfectly normal to experience self-doubt and feel like an imposter during the assessment process. These feelings do not invalidate your experiences or make you any less deserving of understanding and support. Recognizing these feelings as a natural part of the process can help manage them better.
  2. Avoid comparison: Remember that people engage and interact with their world in different ways. Comparing your experiences to those of others can lead to feelings of inadequacy. Focus on understanding your unique pattern of strengths and challenges instead.
  3. Seek support: Do not hesitate to reach out to mental health professionals, support groups, or trusted individuals in your life if you find these feelings overwhelming. They can provide you with valuable guidance, reassurance, and coping strategies.
  4. Be Kind to yourself: It’s important to practice self-compassion and patience during this time. The assessment process can be emotionally draining, and taking care of your mental health is crucial. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find calming.
  5. Trust the process: While it’s natural to question your responses or worry about the results, remember that the assessment is conducted by trained professionals who understand the complexities of neurodivergent thinking. Trust in their expertise and the process.

Post-Diagnosis: When Imposter Syndrome Persists

Despite receiving a confirmed diagnosis, you may find yourself worrying about having unintentionally ‘tricked’ the psychologist or over-identified with stereotypical descriptions. Such feelings, while disconcerting, are not uncommon and are often a manifestation of imposter syndrome. It’s crucial to remember the following:

  1. Professionals are trained to discern: Psychologists and clinicians conducting assessments are trained to differentiate between genuine symptoms and over-identification. Trust their expertise and judgment.
  1. It’s okay to relate to the symptoms: Over-identification usually arises from a strong relation to the symptoms listed under “neurodivergence.” It’s essential to remember that relating to certain symptoms is not a flaw but instead signifies a deeper understanding of your experiences and feelings.
  1. Confirmation bias is normal: It’s common to focus more on things that confirm our beliefs, also known as confirmation bias. If you’ve been diagnosed, you may find yourself doing this with your symptoms. While this might feel like ‘over-identifying,’ it’s a typical psychological process.
  1. Reach out: If these feelings persist, consider discussing them with your clinician or a trusted individual. They can provide further reassurance and help you navigate such feelings.

Self-doubt and imposter syndrome are common experiences, especially in moments of significant personal revelation. It’s okay to question, but don’t let these doubts invalidate your experiences or your diagnosis.

The Bottom Line

As we’ve discussed, neurodivergent experience is not a one-size-fits-all model; it encompasses diversity in experience, thought, and feeling. As you move through the journey of assessments or diagnoses, remember that self-doubt is part of the process – embrace it and trust your journey. You are capable, and you can make it through this!

If you or someone you know is struggling with these feelings, please don’t hesitate to ask for help. Services are available to support and guide autistic adults through their emotional journey. With the right resources and guidance, everyone can learn to embrace their individual experiences and live life with greater understanding and confidence.

Trust your instincts and take it one step at a time. If you’d like to learn more about navigating imposter syndrome as a neurodivergent individual, visit our website or email us at Together, we can take the journey to greater self-acceptance and fulfillment.

Dr. Jessica Myszak and Dr. Jaime Long have significant experience performing psychological evaluations with children and adults. They offer both in-person and telehealth evaluations for children, teens, and adults looking for answers. In addition to seeing clients on the Chicago North Shore, they are able to work with families who reside in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Washington DC, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming! Dr. Long is also now available to see clients in New York and California. If you are interested in learning more about potentially working with them, you can visit their website here to get the process started.