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Talking To Your Therapist About Adult Autism

Did you know you can ask your therapist to get more training in your presenting issues? Maybe you've been working with your therapist for a while now and feel like you have a good relationship with them. Maybe you've been learning more about Autism and really resonating with the descriptions and research you've been doing. But what if your therapist isn't very familiar with Autism and doesn't have lived experience or training in working with Autistic people? What if you're worried your therapist will dismiss you or not take you seriously?

This was my experience a few years ago. I'd already been working with my therapist for about a year and we had good rapport. I'd been doing more research about how Autism can present in women and gender nonconforming people, and was feeling increasingly confident that Autism was the missing piece that explained so many of my experiences. When I first mentioned it casually to my therapist that I thought I might be Autistic, she waived it off quickly saying "oh I don't think you have Autism."

This is unfortunately common for many high masking Autistic adults who have gone through life undetected. It was disappointing to say the least but I didn't push back. Weeks later I brought it up a second time, explaining that I'd been doing a lot of research and consistently checked the boxes for "female Autism" that I'd been reading about. (Although I have issues with placing Autistic traits inside gender binaries, especially because Autistics are much more likely to have trans identities, this was the information available at the time). This time she was slightly more open but clearly still skeptical, and admitted she didn't know very much about Autism.

After months of almost daily research, taking every free assessment tool I could get my hands on, and connecting more with the Autistic community online, I knew I had found my people. I knew this was the missing piece I'd been waiting for. I liked my therapist, I didn't want to look for a new one. I knew from my experience thus far in my therapy graduate program that therapists have ethical duties to continue to educate themselves on issues that are relevant to their clients. I also knew that it isn't the client's job to educate their therapist about their identities.

When our next session came, I decided I wanted to advocate for myself. I told her again, with much more confidence this time, that I was Autistic. I told her wanted to continue to work together and that "if we are to continue to work together I would appreciate if you would get more training in Autism, particularly how it shows up in adult women." She told me she would be willing to do so, and I gave her a few book recommendations to start.

Because of my self advocacy, she started her Autism learning journey. She told me about the continuing education courses she'd taken on Autism, and we talked about the contents of the book I'd shared with her. She told me she was learning a lot and it was a whole new perspective for her. I realized how much I had been masking my Autism, even with her, and we started working on helping me unmask in session.

Eventually she said to me, "wow I can't believe I didn't realize you were Autistic, your mask was so good!" She told me how after her continued learning she was able to better recognize not just my Autistic traits, but those of other current and former clients of hers. Before starting her Autism learning journey she didn't think she'd worked with very many Autistic people, if any. Now she realizes she's had a ton of Autistic clients, and is able to think about their work differently.

She even told me she had a prospective client reach out to her saying he thought he might be Autistic. She said to me, "a few years ago I probably would have said no, like I did to you, but now that I know more I told him that self diagnosis is valid and recommended him the book you told me about." (Unmasking Autism by Dr. Devon Price, for those interested). She later apologized to me for her initial dismissal when I first mentioned Autism in our sessions.

She was willing to put in the work, and is now a better therapist for me and all of the other Autistic clients she may work with in the future. If she had been unwilling to learn more about Autism, I likely would have found another therapist. It can be scary and uncomfortable to advocate for yourself, but I'm so glad I did, and you can too!

If you've been think about talking to your therapist about Autism but aren't sure how to bring it up, try some of these conversation starters:

"Have you done any training in neurodiversity affirming practice?"

"Do you have any experience with adult Autism?"

"I've been reading more about Autism and it really resonates with me, I'd like to explore that more together."

"Many of my experiences seem to have a lot in common with Autism, can we talk more about that today?"

"Do you have any resources around exploring an Autistic identity?"

"I've been considering getting an adult Autism assessment, do you know what that might look like?"

"I'm Autistic and I'd really appreciate if you could learn more about Autism to help you better understand my experiences."

Ideally your therapist would be open to anything you want to bring into therapy, but unfortunately that won't always be the case. If your therapist isn't open to learning more about Autism and neurodiversity, or repeatedly dismisses you when you broach the topic, you're allowed to find another therapist to work with. Maybe an Autistic, or otherwise neurodivergent therapist, would be a better option. Not every therapist will be the right fit for you, and it's okay to consult with a few different therapists to see who you get along with best.

Therapy is a great place to practice self advocacy, engage in self exploration, and embrace your authenticity. If you've been wanting to talk to your therapist about Autism, this is your sign! I'm wishing you well on your journey.


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