Amy Tracey was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of 20, this is considered a very late diagnosis.
Freya O’Horo of All About Autism, sits down with Amy to discuss her experiences as a struggling adolescent and how her life has changed since her autism diagnosis.
Tell us a little about yourself and your connection to autism.
My name is Amy, I’m 23 and I’m from Dublin, Ireland. I’m studying my last year in a level 7 in Business at the National College of Ireland and I’m going to apply for a degree in Social Science this year.
I do volunteer work for a non-profit organization where I set up the company’s social media platforms and work as a receptionist. I am interested in job specialization for people who are struggling to find and sustain a job.
My special interests vary, but this is something I have been interested in doing for a while. I am connected to autism because I have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder (ADHD) and Dyslexia. I have a family member also on the Autism Spectrum.
How did you feel when you were diagnosed with autism at the age of 20?
I felt as if I should have been diagnosed earlier on in life. I was diagnosed as Dyslexic at age seven and I was taken out of mainstream school. I was placed into a special needs school for children with dyslexia and soon after, my reading and writing improved.
When I completed this school, I went back to mainstream school and I couldn’t integrate due to the stress, not being able to socialize, being left out and the heavy work load; I had to do second grade maths in fifth grade and I would be up all night doing homework only to go into school the next day and have it dismissed as not good enough.
I had the school refer me to social classes to try and understand why I wasn’t socializing properly, two clinical child psychologists helped with the transition. They didn’t seem to pick up on the obvious answer: I had autism.
So yes, receiving a diagnosis later in life was frustrating. One of the main reasons I wasn’t assessed at a younger age was because of the huge difference in autism characteristics presented in males and females — so I have heard.
What have you found most challenging about your autism?
People telling me I don’t have autism.
Too many people who have received a late diagnosis. It answers many questions about yourself that growing up, I would have struggled to figure out and really understand. Most of all it was confusing, upsetting and a relief all at the same time. The confusing part of being diagnosed with autism was not having known what autism was, I had never heard of it. So when I did my research, I came across the lower end of the spectrum and I did not relate, and I even found Asperger’s syndrome very hard to understand. Once I understood autism, why I was the way I was started to make sense.
At the time of my diagnosis, I was struggling to make friends. Three years ago, my colleagues had a problem with the way I communicated with them. Customers would say I lacked in communication and I didn’t understand why.
One of the reasons I had an assessment done was because of this. In a way I felt relief as I was getting answers. I now have to learn new skills that I should have developed years ago, and those skills would have changed my life and made a huge difference.
What is the best thing that’s happened because of your diagnosis?
Once I received my diagnosis, I had a better understanding of why I perceived things the way I did. I always knew that I saw things a bit differently to everyone around me so it definitely explained a lot.
For example, I was always very sensitive and fussy with sound more than anything else and I still am. It used to be hard not knowing why and it was hard trying to explain to people on a night out that I have to suddenly leave at 12 am on the spot because it’s too loud, but having Asperger’s explained this.
It explained why I chose to stay home often and why I had a hard time integrating into new places. I’ve been working on this as much as I can and it has really helped.
Academically, I was going backwards and nowhere for years and it was only when my autism diagnosis came to light and I could attain the right supports, I was able to flourish. My newly acquired skills helped me get through college today and recognizing my autism was definitely one of the best things that ever happened to me.
Is there any advice you can offer to someone who received a late autism diagnosis?
Getting an assessment can be very scary and life changing, but it will help you out in the long run. It will explain certain things that you struggled to understand for years.
You can get help with things you had difficulty with on a daily basis such as social skills and interacting with others. It will also give you the opportunity to receive support in school or college which will make a world of difference.
A big thank you to Amy for sharing her story – you can contact Amy on Twitter @amytracey94