….maybe! Probably. It’s been described as “shockingly obvious”, a “no-brainer”, and “very clear by the way you speak, behave, and interact with others” by some (many) of my friends. Glowing endorsements that sit over my head like on a movie poster hanging in the most liminal corner of the escalator hellscape that is Sky World Event Cinemas. These labels are not what you would call a “traditional” diagnosis of autism—no white rooms, combing of school reports and crying parents—and neither are they a self-diagnosis that’s the product of deep introspection and autistic-levels of online research. The secret, third thing of peer-reviewed neurodivergence was what finally brought the shock of realisation onto me, despite the massive neon signs dotted throughout my entire life. It was the way people put onto me something I was subconsciously holding at a distance, and did it so nonchalantly, as if it wasn’t redefining my entire existence.
It was the validation from other autistic people that finally lead me to believe this litany of symptoms were not fundamental flaws, or just #quirkygirlthings, or sprinkles of swag. Because I used to be someone that did not believe in diagnoses from anyone except a doctor, thought they were harmful and invalid, and so refused to be the one to label myself. My view on the validity of self-diagnosis has changed radically in a very short time, and the journey of that changing thought process was shaped by many things:
Ableism and the internet are like two cymbals, which my monkey brain crashed together to echo the belief that autism is bad through my skull, drilling it into my worldview. The idea of being autistic is not a positive in today’s society, despite how accepting any one person or community may be. There are many—large, recognisable, and well-funded—organisations within the sphere who state their aim is to “cure” or “mitigate” autism. It’s in their mission statements, their constitutions, on their merch. Celebrities will give them a long, photo-opportune handshake at a charity drive. Sia will make a movie with them. The puzzle-piece wielding boy mums, with best-selling memoirs about their strength, their struggle.
I held this internalised ableism for a long time, but it was exacerbated by social media. Because when something grows “popular” on social media, an opposition has to rise to meet it. I’ve seen this mostly on TikTok but do remember the echoes of it from the bygone era of Tumblr—because history always repeats itself. Labelling and micro-labelling turns into a fad, and then quickly gets crucified as the trend cycle turns once again. No matter where you stand in it, watching identities get ripped down over whether or not people should be allowed to self-diagnose is exhausting.
But, the connections of social media can also be extremely helpful. I think a lot of us would be lying if we didn’t admit we owe the internet before any doctor for putting names to things about ourselves we didn’t have words for. For answering questions we didn’t know we had, pointing to pains we didn’t even know weren’t supposed to be hurting. I think overall, a hyper-specific For You Page has created a net-positive effect, at least for me—rising above internet discourse as a (mostly) reformed chronically online person, and only taking the teachings that were helpful to me.
Gaslight, Gatekeep, Girltism
The research on autism at all is limited, even more so the manifestations of it in girls versus boys. The experts have been a bit busy undoing prejudicial research, taking Nazis out of the DSMs, trying to convince people that eugenics are, in fact, bad. They’ve only just started scratching the surface of autism in girls and the prospect of the findings to come are exciting. But until then, we’re left with my Health Issue Hot Takes™ informed by a lifelong practice of misandry. But! I am not an expert. And I will never purport to be one, though being a wise, learned ‘tism wizard sounds sick. I’m not trying to get the big bosses’ inboxes flooded with people trying to cancel me because of my reckons on patriarchy and socialisation.
What I will say is this: we cannot be saying that self-diagnosis isn’t valid when autism in girls is so vastly under researched and goes undiagnosed because of how unfamiliar the symptoms are, both to professionals and regular people (like parents) whose only identifiers are the most stereotypical of symptoms. How can we tell women, particularly the older (and further away from a typical age of diagnosis) they get, that they must get their neurological struggles ratified by a doctor when we can’t even get them to investigate our physical pain? Diagnosis is lengthy, expensive, and inaccessible for most individuals and families, and even starting what is already a difficult process is out of reach for those who are mistrustful of the healthcare system, and have good reason to be.
Our whole lives people have mistaken my brother and I for twins. They see right past the entire foot of height difference, the three year age gap—that is how similarly we look and act. Our biggest passions are ones that we share, our most obsessive antics will always be done together. Books for me, DnD for him, video games together, and so on. This is how we have always been, and still are. The only difference in our behaviour that I see is the way it was handled by others; my brother was diagnosed as a toddler, I’m not sure it has clicked for anyone except me that we share the same genetics. I think when you have a sibling, especially an older sibling, you want to focus and emphasise to others the ways you are different, to not be labelled as “so-and-so’s sister”. Gender deals girls a hand we don’t deserve, and it’s important to see it for what it is, rather than confusing it for being undeserving of help.
Congrats! Welcome to the club.
In my well-researched interviews of fellow autistics (asking my flatmates at dinner, polls on my Close Friends story) there was a common thread running through their reasoning why self-diagnosis is ok:
Even if you are not autistic, if that label is helping you manage symptoms you are struggling with, then why should that be bad?
This was unanimous across people with and without formal diagnosis, across all parts of the spectrum. The realisation that it’s not that serious, and doing whatever will help you, is good. Whether it’s the first step to seeking further help, or that’s as far as you go. No one is making autism a part of their identity as a malicious act, or for fun. There is no reason to, because would I take it all away if I could?