Going through a late diagnosis of autism can be a life-transforming experience, leading to a significant journey of self-discovery. For most individuals, it involves reflecting on a lifetime of masking and concealing our true selves to fit into a neurotypical world. Masking becomes a survival strategy, requiring constant effort to navigate social interactions and expectations. However, the toll it takes is immense, draining of energy and causing mental strain, ultimately leaving you feeling disconnected from your own identity.

Analysing your entire life through the lens of masking can be both liberating and confusing. It reveals sacrifices made, the loss of innocence, and the realisation that survival in a neurotypical world demanded concealing one’s true self. This process can leave you feeling lost and confused, struggling to discern your true identity beneath the layers of constant masking.

Further research into the impacts of masking on late-diagnosed autistics is crucial! Masking as a child can be traumatic, leading to a high percentage of individuals experiencing complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). It is vital to acknowledge that the existing model for C-PTSD therapy is based on a neurotypical brain, which may not fully capture the experiences and needs of neurodivergent individuals. Treating a neurodivergent individual as if they were neurotypical can potentially cause more harm than good.

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) is a psychological condition that develops as a result of prolonged and repeated exposure to traumatic events, particularly in interpersonal relationships. It is often associated with chronic and severe trauma, such as childhood abuse, neglect, or prolonged captivity. C-PTSD encompasses the symptoms of traditional PTSD, such as flashbacks, nightmares, and hypervigilance, while also including additional symptoms that reflect the complex and pervasive impact of trauma on an individual’s identity, self-worth, and interpersonal functioning. These additional symptoms may include emotional dysregulation, difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships, distorted self-perception, feelings of shame and guilt, and a profound sense of helplessness and worthlessness. The diagnosis of C-PTSD acknowledges that the effects of chronic trauma extend beyond the core symptoms of PTSD, highlighting the need for specialised approaches to therapy and support that address the complex and long-lasting consequences of traumatic experiences.

In my own research into my condition, I requested an assessment for PTSD, and I have just started treatment which I am very open-minded about. The correct approach to therapy is essential as an understanding of autism is vital! Dealing with a late diagnosis and masking autism, it became evident to me that autistic symptoms can overlap with those of complex post-traumatic stress disorder. This overlap can significantly complicate the process of differentiating between the two conditions, adding to the challenges faced by late-diagnosed autistics. Both autism and C-PTSD can involve difficulties with sensory processing, social interactions, and emotional regulation. The shared symptoms can blur the lines and make it harder to identify whether certain challenges arise from autistic traits or from traumatic experiences – both?

The journey of late diagnosis and masking in autism is complex, requiring resilience and the pursuit of understanding. As awareness grows, it is crucial that we continue to advocate for further research, compassionate support, and tailored therapeutic approaches. Only then can we provide the necessary tools for late-diagnosed autistics to unmask, embrace our authentic selves, and thrive in a world that celebrates neurodiversity.