Z is for Zig Zag

by Michelle Sutton from Michelle Sutton Writes

Z is for Zig Zag

Getting to know yourself is not a straight forward process. I don’t think any of us expect it to be. So, it’s a little surprising to notice that people often want to know the “simplest way to know” if their child is Autistic, or if they are Autistic themselves.

There is, of course, a medically based process that can be followed, involving doctors, paediatricians, psychologists, speech pathologists and occupational therapists all looking at a set of “diagnostic criteria” that is based on some pathologising expectations of what is normal and what is dysfunctional. Sometimes that process is helpful when a young child is having a really difficult time in the world, as it can relatively quickly give a useful label to help gain support.

But if you are a person who values diversity and wants your child accepted and nurtured simply to be their best self, starting off their journey knowing they are Autistic in this way can be difficult. And if you are an adult who managed to get through childhood undetected, the experience of being subject to the DSM criteria and medical diagnostic process can vary from discouraging to traumatising. That’s not to say that being identified as Autistic is a bad thing, just that doing it in this way for many is not ideal.

I experienced the zig zag method of being identified as Autistic, and I am so grateful for that.

What do I mean by the zig zag method? Well, as I said… getting to know yourself is not a straight forward process. There is no one right way to walk through life and discover your identity. Likewise, there is no one right way to discover you are Autistic.

For me, realising I am Autistic has been a long process with many stops on the way. Among my Autistic friends, the stories are many and varied, and more often than not zig zag all over the place. They wind many beautiful paths back and forward as people learn, discover, grow and become empowered by what they know of themselves.

There are often common threads as we zig zag and cross paths. Many of my friends were identified as Autistic as children or young people, the same as my children were. Many of my friends realised they are Autistic after their children were identified Autistic, just like I did.

Those of us who travel much of our lives without knowing that part of ourselves find we are given other labels instead: “different”, “outsider”. We feel inadequate and know we are not like others, but we do our best to fit in because that is what we have been raised to do and we know no better. We zig zag through challenges not understanding why we find things so hard.

Some of us stop exploring for a while when we find the word “neurodivergent”. It seems to fit at first, but after a while it is not enough, and we continue walking our path until we realise “Autistic” fits better.

Many friends who began to identify as Autistic as adults talk about the relief they felt when they zigged across and finally know who they are. I felt that too. It left one last zag to make, a journey to learning how I can be my best Autistic self.

I am getting there, closer to feeling like I am unapologetically myself. But I know now that there was no simple way for me to get to this point. The zig zagging was necessary. It was important. Because good things do not come easily. Good things are worth travelling for. Understanding yourself is a good thing. Zig zagging toward self understanding and claiming your identity is not something that can be rushed.

This is part of a series of posts addressing themes from the neurodiversity movement and paradigm which will be published during the course of April 2016. To read the rest of the posts, please click here.