Step 1 – Understand and embrace the concept of neurodiversity

Neurodiversity was a term originally coined by the Australian sociologist Judy Singer in the late 1990s.

Neurodiversity refers to the idea that everyone experiences and interacts with the world around them differently. People who identify as neurodivergent may be autistic, or have a developmental condition such as ADHD or learning disability, or another condition that makes them think and process the world differently than the majority, ‘neurotypical’ population.

The neurodiversity movement sees neurological differences as just that – differences and variations of the human condition and experience, and not as deficits. No two brains are the same, and no two autistic people are alike. The neurodiversity movement aims to increase equality and inclusion of all people, and bring attention to the challenges of living in a world where environments are not catered to different ways of learning and information processing.

As you go on this journey of self-discovery about whether you are autistic, it is important to find support that is neurodiversity affirming, that sees you for who you are, rather than focus on a diagnostic label. The right support will help you discover your strengths as well as your challenges, and find personalised strategies that help you live a meaningful life.

Step 2 – Find your language

Words and language matter. How you wish to describe yourself and your neurodiversity is based on your personal preference. Someone may describe themselves as an autistic person, another may refer to themselves as ‘being on the autism spectrum’, or ‘a person on the spectrum’.

If you are just starting on your journey to discovering autism and what it means for you, remember that you have the agency to determine the language that suits you most. Starting out with neurodiversity affirming resources and support may help you find the words and language that best describe your unique characteristics and experience of the world.

Step 3 – Find your allies

Who in your environment sees you as you? What are you passionate about and who are the people who share your passion? What do you value in a meaningful life? Starting your self-discovery with your values, passions and strengths can orient you towards workplaces, services, friends and communities that embrace neurological differences and support you on your journey.

Step 4- Practice self-compassion

What would you tell a friend who is discovering that they are autistic? Flip the script and practice showing the same compassion and kindness to yourself that you would express to someone you love. Finding out what autism means to you is no small feat – it can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. Be gentle on your journey. Seek help and practise receiving help from neurodiversity affirming allies.

Step 5 – Seek professional support

A formal diagnostic process can help you get the support that you need, but may not always be necessary. Professional support in the form of therapy or coaching, from a neurodiversity affirming psychologist who understands autism or who are neurodivergent themselves, can be a fantastic first step in this important journey. When looking for a psychologist, don’t be afraid to ask what training or experience they have in understanding autism or working with autistic people. A psychologist can explore autism with you in a therapy context, and can provide further advice as to whether a formal diagnostic process may be helpful for you.