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What To Do If An Adult Loved One Is Diagnosed With Autism? A Clinical Psychology Podcast Episode.


What To Do If An Adult Loved One Is Diagnosed With Autism? A Clinical Psychology and Relationship Psychology Podcast Episode.

With the number of adults being diagnosed with autism, we need to ask ourselves what if our boyfriend, girlfriend or partner gets diagnosed. We need to ask this not only because a diagnosis changes a relationship but so we can better support our loved one. Allowing our loved ones to live happily in a supportive and loving environment. This is even more important to consider when we remember how support for autistic adults is rarely spoken about. If you’re interested in clinical psychology, autism and supporting people with mental health conditions, then you’re in for a treat.

Today’s psychology podcast episode has been sponsored by Suicide Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley


Why Should We Look At Supporting Autistic Adults?

As a result of the prevalence rate of Autism increasing, there are more and more adults getting diagnosed with the condition than previous years. Since the US’s Centre for Disease Control estimated that one in every 44 adults have autism. Normally adults that come for an autism diagnosis have spent hours researching the condition, they’re taken all the online autism tests (and yes as a psychology person that makes me shiver) and they self-diagnose based on this evidence.


Also, an adult is normally referred for an autism assessment by a doctor, friend or therapist. Since the assessment process for autism is very complex, very time-consuming and very expensive. Of course when it comes to the UK, thankfully it is free at the time of writing but we have to wait at least 4 or 5 years to actually get an assessment.


Thankfully, adults still want to go through the long, complex process of getting an autism diagnosis. Due to they believe a diagnosis will help them to understand themselves better and improve the quality of their life.


Now one thing I do want to admit to is that autism and ADHD are very unique cases when it comes to diagnosis. I’ve spoken before on the podcast plenty of times and in my book Clinical Psychology Reflections Volume 3 about the damage diagnostic labels can do to people. But autism and ADHD diagnosis are some of the only conditions that don’t cause more problems than they solve. And they don’t cause as much stigma, negative mental health and other negatives that labels cause. This is because adults, parents and sometimes the children themselves are often relieved about an autism diagnosis because they can finally explain why they’re or their child is acting in this particular way.


Just a little interesting fact for you.


As well as this is supported with a great quote from Leedham et al. (2019), “Diagnosis was experienced by participants as facilitating transition from being self-critical to self-compassionate, coupled with an increased sense of agency."


What To Do If An Adult You Love Is Diagnosed With Autism?

However, if you know a friend, loved one or family member that was recently diagnosed with autism then what should you do. Since I will not lie, this does change things and some adults start acting differently after having received their diagnosis. Therefore, this is always important information to know, not only for autism but this might be useful with other mental health conditions too.


You Should Research Autism

Personally, I really don’t understand how anyone can want to be really supportive to a friend or loved one, if they don’t research the difficulty. Thankfully, there are a ton of amazing podcasts, books and resources that allow you to learn about autism. Some of this podcast’s own autism episodes include:


However, other books on autism include, Unmasking Autism by Devon Price, Neurotribes by Steve Silberman and a whole bunch of others. As well as there are YouTube channels, like Autism from the Inside and other ways to research too.


Therefore, in whatever way you choose to digest your media, there is a way you for to learn about autism.


Now I will confess, there are normal and obsessive ways to research things. Personally, I would just stick with the normal ways and by normal I mean research it until you have a good understanding but you aren’t reading everything you can find on it. I have the problem of becoming obsessively researching something when I eventually develop an interest and I’m telling you this because I wanted to better support my Latvian friend. So I read a book about Latvian history and a lot of different websites and academic papers (well the abstracts anyway) about the difficulty he was facing.


In hindsight I’m happy that I explored the topic in detail and I explored the history, but looking back I realise how this could be deemed as obsessive or at least, a little intense. Especially as reading two or three online articles would have sufficed perfectly.


Anyway, by doing your own research, you’ll be able to better understand the mental health difficulties and daily struggles that the autistic person in your life experiences.


Forget Your Preconceived Ideas About Autism

Personally, I flat out hate the myths in society about autism because they are annoying as hell and deeply problematic. Yet those myths are way beyond the scope of this podcast episode, so let’s focus on the fact that if we lack direct experience with autistic people then we believe these myths. The myths and misconceptions are the only sources of information that we have about this clinical population, so we believe them. I understand this, I really do.


Furthermore, a lot of the adults listening to this podcast episode, myself included, we all grew up in a time where most of the information about autistic came from the parents of autistic children. That isn’t a bad thing and it is a very valid perspective, but it is limited. Only the people who live, experience and deal with the struggles of the mental health condition can tell us what it is truly like.


Therefore, it is important to let go of any preconceived notions when it comes to autism. Even more so when these ideas come from parent-dominated discussions about the condition because autistic people themselves will always, always understand the condition better compared to their parents.


Because they’re living it.


Validate Them

This is something I am so hot on at the moment because even though I know, I truly know the sheer power of validation and someone actually validating you and I have tons of stories connected to that point. I’m not going to tell you them in this episode because they aren’t all related to autism.


Anyway, it is extremely possible, and I would say likely, that you will have family members that don’t see you as autistic. You might think you should have a different diagnosis or that you’re looking for an excuse to explain away your awful behaviour.


Now moving on to adults around this loved one, if you really believe this then I suppose this is okay. But if you actually want to love, support and be nice to this loved one then this is flat out not the right thing to say or do.


Instead, you should listen to them, ask questions and validate their inner experiences.

I know, I really do know how hard it can be to listen to someone you’ve known for ages has been hiding thoughts, feelings and difficulties from you. Or even pretending to be someone that they aren’t. This is called masking behaviour and it is something a hell of a lot of undiagnosed autistic people have to do to survive. It is awful that we have to do that but it is just a way to survive because of the world we live in.


You should never judge them.


You should only ever listen, respect and regardless of whether you actually believe them. Just do the nice thing and validate them. It isn’t hard and yes, as you can tell I am very passionate about people validating others.


Accept Your Loved One Might Be Different After A Diagnosis

Continuing on with a look at masking behaviour, autistic adults and adolescents are masters of hiding their autistic traits if they can so they can appear normal and function in this neurotypical world that we live in. However, these masking behaviours, according to research, can lead to an increased risk of anxiety, depression and sadly suicidality.


This is important because the wonderful thing about an autism diagnosis is that it gives a person a chance to accept their autism and this results in a reduction in their masking behaviours. Also, this means the autistic adult will increase and engage in the behaviours they normally forced and twisted themselves to hide so this can lead to the impression to other people that they’re changing.


To be honest, I do understand that this might be scary as hell and really confusing. But in reality all that is happening if your loved one is turning into the person they are. The person they were behind closed doors, the person that they were scared to show and most importantly the person they might have even thought was ruining their life. When this couldn’t be further from the truth.


On the whole, the best thing you can do to support your loved one is to simply accept them and love them. As well as encourage them to unmask themselves so they can live as authentic, true and wonderfully autistic self.


No one should have to hide who they are.


Love Them

Finally, I’ll be the first to admit that autism makes you experience a lot of rejection in your life that you don’t understand until later on, a lot later on. It can hurt your friendships, it can break them and it can impact your social life in very negative ways. For example, I have a new friend and because he is such a good friend, this is a massive learning curve for me. Since I hadn’t had this good of a friend for easily half a decade and I am a completely different person since that time, so I am having to learn how to be a good, close friend again.


I know that probably makes no sense to neurotypicals but if there are autistic people in the audience, which I know there are. Then you guys are definitely back me up here.


Therefore, a lot of autistic people as adults, still lack social skills and experience communication difficulties that neurotypical people handle with such ease. This means a lot of autistic adults do spend their lives confused by other people and the various social interactions around them. Because let’s face it, people are so weird at times. I mean it.


Overall, this can make autistic adults feel isolated and lonely so that’s why it is critical for you to care about them and ultimately love them for who they are. Not who you want them to be.


Clinical Psychology and Autism Psychology Conclusion

To wrap up this podcast episode, I have to say that I love autistic podcast episodes because they’re really interesting to me, they’re useful and they are a lot of fun. I understand that getting a diagnosis can be a stressful time in any family because it is a massive change and that can cause all sorts of wonderful benefits and problems. Therefore, I really hope that this has been a useful guide to the families and friends of autistic adults because you now know what to do if someone you love has been diagnosed with autism.


Then just a reminder here are the five things you can do:

· Research autism

· Forget your preconceived ideas

· Validate them

· Accept they might be different after their diagnosis

· Love them


I always say that a diagnosis isn’t a bullet, something to be shamed of or something that ruins a person. A diagnosis like autism can actually be a great way to accept yourself, understand your behaviour and get support so you can move on and live a full and productive life.


And that all starts with the love and support of the friends and family around you.


I really hope you enjoyed today’s clinical psychology podcast episode.


If you want to learn more, please check out:


Suicide Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley



Have a great day.


Clinical Psychology References

Ahlers, K. P., Gabrielsen, T. P., Lewis, D., Brady, A. M., & Litchford, A. (2017). Supporting individuals with autism spectrum disorder in understanding and coping with complex social emotional issues. School Psychology International, 38(6), 586-607.


Cook, J, Hull, L, Crane, L, & Mandy, W. (2021). Camouflaging in Autism: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review. 89, 102080


Galvin, J. Howes, A., McCarthy, B., & Richards, G. (2020) Self-compassion as a mediator of the association between autistic traits and depressive/anxious symptomatology. Sage Journals.


Hume, K., Regan, T., Megronigle, L., & Rhinehalt, C. (2016). Supporting students with autism spectrum disorder through grief and loss. Teaching Exceptional Children, 48(3), 128-136.


Huang, Y., Arnold, S. R., Foley, K. R., & Trollor, J. N. (2022). A qualitative study of adults’ and support persons’ experiences of support after autism diagnosis. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 1-14.


Leedham, A Thompson, A.R., Smith, R. & Freeth, M. (2019). I was exhausted trying to figure it out: The experiences of females receiving an autism diagnosis in middle to late adulthood. Sage Journals


South, M., Costa, A. P., & McMorris,C. (2021) Death by suicide among people with autism: beyond zebrafish. The Journal American Medical Association, 4;4(1)


Stagg and Belcher (2019). Living with autism without knowing; receiving a diagnosis in later life. Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine. 2164-2850


Turnock, A., Langley, K., & Jone C. R.G. (2022). Understanding stigma in autism: a narrative review and theoretical model. Autism in Adulthood, 4, 1


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