Skip to main content


Discovering my autism.

A plumbob hangs over a compass on a map.
Jasper Peach

Mar 28, 2024

Finding out at age 41 that I have combination noodle ADHD felt like opening the curtains and seeing all the dust bunnies I could suction out of my life. So much has become possible, and the road to getting my license to thrill (a script for dexamphetamines that give me urges to organise seamless life admin via spreadsheets) has changed everything. Discovering my autism a few years later was a completely different situation.

Unlike the ADHD rollercoaster, I sought no advice from my GP, my psychiatrist, or my spiritual advisers (the queer little friends in my phone). I learned that I have multiple autistic family members, and wanting to understand them and how I relate to them nudged me toward diving into a collection of memoirs. I have a deep fascination with how people behave and always have, so people talking about their lives and all the why and how is my jam.

I learn best anecdotally, but reading print that is pressed tightly together on the page feels like deciphering hidden fragments of alphabet through ripples in rivers. The text swims and I find myself re-reading multiple times before wandering off to do something that feels less confusing. I consume most literature aurally when it’s available to do so, and hearing the author share their story gives me so many more cues and layers to apply to my own lenses

A side-on photo of a book with some pages sticking up vertically.

Firstly, Late Bloomer hummed into my ears via the familiar and comforting voice of its author and Triple R broadcaster Clem Bastow. Oh, I thought multiple times. That feels familiar. My brain works just as Clem has described in a large percentage of their reflections.

The panic attacks that had been diagnosed in my teens were clearly autistic meltdowns. Nobody had ever called them that before, but the difference between the two laid out on the pages that travelled into my ears and through my nervous system resulted in a smooth glossy feeling. To put that synaesthetic experience into words equates to truth that resonates so deeply that hindsight makes perfect sense. Memory becomes less perplexing, and unexpectedly more compassionate. Panic had never felt like the right word to describe the utter dislocation from presence I’d experienced throughout the years.

I thought back to the year before when I’d read Hannah Gadsby’s memoir Ten Steps to Nanette, and related heavily to a lot of the subject matter, but didn’t think much of it as I was busy balancing nine thousand thoughts in my head at all times. It was only looking at the genetic link that helped me to redefine what was happening for me in a more cohesive way.

Next was a recommendation from my psychologist (who is also autistic) to read Dr Devon Price’s Unmasking Autism. I had described an interaction I’d had with my wife about the cold blooded paralysis I’d felt when we’d run out of roast dandelion tea, and my psych mentioned this was the most autistic thing she’d ever heard. Unmasking Autism broke me into pieces and had to be listened to in small stretches of time. It was viscerally painful to hear my own life accounted in the stories they had collected. Painful because I had never possessed the language for what my otherness was – I’d always assumed I was doing life wrong and unable to be a proper person. That I was flawed and slow, muddled and lazy, unable to cope with what was so simple for others. The lack of compassion I had for myself was at complete opposition to the understanding I would give anyone crossing my path.

A vertical photo of a hallway with wooden flooring and light arm chairs.

I didn’t feel the need to pay hundreds of dollars and use a lot of my time and energy in medical spaces to get a diagnosis. My understanding of all I’ve gone through as someone who didn’t have all the information to live my one wild and precious life in a safely supported way, is enough. It’s enough to reframe what it means to be me, and the ways I can engineer my life to be both full and neuro-affirming.

I think about how I’ve related to the other autistic people in my family of origin in my upbringing, and posit that we were all afraid of one another. The foundation had no grounding because we were living in a neurotypical world not built with supportive structures for people like us in mind.

Fear of your own family can look like all sorts of things: cruelty, the silent treatment, belittling, avoiding. Sometimes it looks like putting your head down and getting through the rough patches, deeply loving the people around you, feeling unsure and confused about how at odds at those things are with each other.

With distance, time and perspective there’s capacity for change as well as healing. The first step in that healing is knowing that I can self-diagnose my autism without needing permission from a system that never once saw what was happening for me, despite presenting an inordinate amount of times in severe distress. I can step outside of that system, select my own label, and decide what that means for me. For now, it means I am equipped not only with language but also a community to learn from and be part of.