I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 34. We need more research for adults. mental health perspective

The Mental Health Project is a Seattle Times initiative focused on covering mental and behavioral health issues. It is funded by the Ballmer Group, a national organization focused on economic mobility for children and families. The Seattle Times exercises editorial control over the work produced by this team.

I’m 36, and I wasn’t diagnosed with autism until two years ago. I was lucky that I even found out.

Years ago involved too many physicians that didn’t work, medication that gave me bad side effects, and misdiagnosed. Navigating insurance was a constant struggle.

The first psychiatrist I saw prescribed amphetamine medication for ADHD. That drug resulted in three heart attacks at the age of 22. Another psychiatrist prescribed two dozen different medications. Only one worked for ADHD, but my insurance didn’t cover it, so I couldn’t afford it. I can take it now because a generic form is available.

The Seattle Times Mental Health Project features contributed essays from members of our community as part of our Mental Health Perspectives guest column. We invite individuals with personal stories related to mental health to share their experiences that reflect the broader issues and concerns in the field. If you would like to inquire about submitting a column, please email mental health@seattletimes.com.

It was hard for me to connect with a therapist because I didn’t know how therapy worked, what types of treatments were available and how it was based on developing comfortable, trusting relationships.

I later sought help from the mental health organization Valley Cities. I went to many therapists there but with no success. One left for another job, one finished his internship for college, and a couple didn’t fit my needs.

It was also around this time that I began to believe that I might be on the autism spectrum. No other diagnosis was completely appropriate; Depression, anxiety and ADHD only partially explained my behavior and symptoms in social situations. Information I found online showed that I have certain symptoms and may be on the spectrum.

I asked my Valley Cities therapist at the time what I needed to test. She said the only test available was designed for children and teens, and that I would have to go to a children’s hospital in Seattle or search online for the test. It’s like asking someone with a broken leg to buy new bandages and medical supplies without help.

I gave up in despair and despair. The drug worked somewhat, but the side effects were terrible. And although the therapy groups were helpful, I needed a personal therapist I could trust. I was spinning my wheels and didn’t feel or see improvement in my life. I lost faith in the system.

Meanwhile, I needed to work full time to pay the bills, so I took a job as a cook, which meant I had to give up my Washington state Medicaid coverage. Suddenly, everything that was covered through Apple Health, including therapy, medication, doctor visits, and sleep studies, was in jeopardy. The cheapest, minimum-coverage insurance was all I could afford on minimum-wage work.

The initial days of the pandemic and the months that followed were excruciating with few moments of joy.

My 18-year-old cat died, I lost my job, and the pandemic ended a night of board games I attended at a friend’s house. I was smoking a lot of marijuana, and drinking too often. I was close to a suicide attempt. I was toxic in a breakup with a friend who didn’t deserve it, which was the last straw.

I asked my mother to bring me to the hospital. Swedish therapist sent me sound mental health, I’m grateful that I decided to try therapy one more time, despite years of mixed results, because ultimately, luck went my way. After consultation I was appointed a doctor who could treat me. As we continued to work together, I started trusting him and we clicked.

On my third visit, I asked about getting tested for autism. In sound my therapist found a test for children and teens and asked me a number of questions, although some were not relevant to my age. I found out I was autistic the week of my 34th birthday in April, which also happens to be Autism Awareness Month.

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It was a relief to find out because I now have something to work on, and I know why I behave a certain way or struggle in social situations.

With a guide and steady professional support, I spent the entire time working on the pandemic. Therapy on Zoom worked for me. I met my sound therapist in person at a park last summer for my last visit.

I am doing better these days. I am in the process of self-discovery and self-awareness with autism. I’m seeing a new therapist through Kaiser who is working on the skills I started developing and practicing in 2021, and I smoke less weed and drink less alcohol than I did two years ago Am.

I sometimes wonder if I’m having brief tremors because I felt more comfortable during the lockdown than in the regular world.

But I am also wondering how long this process took.

It’s hard enough to find a therapist who accepts your insurance, accepts new clients, and has availability during the day that fits around the work schedule. How should I grow as a person on the spectrum when autism in adults doesn’t have a formal guide to how it presents, and how to fit in?

More research needs to be done on autism in adults. It’s strange that I had to find it myself by searching online. Autism presents itself differently in each age group. By not having this knowledge for adults, we are doing unnecessary harm by misdiagnosing medical conditions.

Reilly Anderson Lives in Seattle and works in the cannabis industry.

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