In recent years, an intriguing phenomenon has emerged in the field of psychological testing. Adults across the world are increasingly seeking evaluations for autism, resulting in a significant backlog of assessments. This surge in demand suggests that a considerable number of individuals suspect they may be autistic. While research on the percentage of those who receive an autism diagnosis is limited, it is evident that the decision to pursue an assessment is not taken lightly. As a psychologist who conducts numerous adult autism evaluations, I have witnessed firsthand the extensive research and contemplation individuals undertake before seeking a professional opinion. In this blog post, I want to shed light on the experiences of those navigating their autism suspicions and seeking clarity through assessments.
The Research Process: Weeks (or Months or Years) of Deliberation
It is no surprise that before a person chooses to book an autism assessment, they invest considerable time and effort into self-reflection and exploration to determine whether it makes sense for them. Getting evaluated is time-consuming, stressful, and expensive. Weeks, and sometimes months, may pass as people engage in online tests, delve into autism literature, search Tiktok, YouTube, and Instagram, and reflect upon their own experiences. This period of self-discovery is crucial for developing a comprehensive understanding of autism traits and discerning their own unique alignment with these characteristics. People often come to appointments with spreadsheets, documents, and even binders full of information that has spoken to them and helped to clarify the ways they identify with neurodiversity.
The Authenticity of Autism Self-Identification
Contrary to popular misconceptions, individuals who suspect they are autistic often demonstrate a deep level of self-awareness. Most have spent years contemplating their experiences and gathering substantial information before reaching out for a formal evaluation. The majority fall into two categories: those who are unwaveringly certain about their autism identity and those who observe signs and wonder if autism might explain their unique characteristics. Notably, both groups frequently align with an autism diagnosis, highlighting the reliability of self-identification in many cases.
People seeking assessments have often meticulously examined the extensive range of autism traits and considered their own personal experience of characteristics. However, it is important to acknowledge that some individuals who suspect autism but do not receive a diagnosis may find that their traits are better explained by ADHD, giftedness, or other mental health conditions. Some of these conditions may have particularly effective treatments or other important factors to consider. Thus, a comprehensive evaluation that considers various factors is essential to provide an accurate assessment and appropriate direction moving forward.
The Need for Second Opinions and Professional Expertise
In my practice, I encounter many individuals who are seeking an autism evaluation for the first time, driven by their own extensive research and self-reflection. However, there is also a notable number who have previously undergone evaluations, often by professionals with limited experience in adult autism. Sometimes they have had a battery of tests and then referred on for an autism evaluation (which is what they believed they were getting!!) or sometimes they are given a variety of diagnoses that do not seem to fit that person’s experiences, including personality disorders, bipolar disorder, reactive attachment disorder, or other conditions. Seeking a second opinion is a testament to these people’s commitment to understanding themselves better. They recognize the significance of accurate assessments conducted by professionals who possess comprehensive expertise in adult autism. These second opinions offer reassurance and validation, empowering individuals to navigate their personal journeys with greater clarity. While some people seek an official diagnosis for accommodations in school, the workplace, or for other support programs, many are doing so for their own knowledge.
The surge in adult autism assessments reflects a growing awareness and recognition of autism spectrum characteristics among individuals themselves. The extensive research, self-reflection, and exploration undertaken before seeking an evaluation demonstrate a genuine desire to better understand one’s own identity and experiences. While there are not official numbers on the validity of self-diagnosis and self-identification of autism, myself and professionals I know who conduct these evaluations suggest that the majority of individuals who do the research and strongly suspect they are autistic are indeed on the autism spectrum. Acknowledging the authenticity of individuals’ self-identification, embracing the complexity of co-occurring conditions, and providing expertise through neurodiversity-affirming evaluations are vital in supporting individuals on their unique paths of self-discovery and acceptance. As we continue to learn and grow, we should foster an environment that values self-awareness and empowers individuals to seek answers.
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! If you are interested in learning more about potentially working with them, you can visit their website here to get the process started.