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Diagnose einer Autismus-Spektrum-Störung bei Erwachsenen

von NFI Redaktion

Maria Davis-Pierre, a licensed psychiatrist, never considered that she might be on the autism spectrum, even though two of her children have Autism Spectrum Disorder. Initially diagnosed with ADHD in college, Davis-Pierre attributed her symptoms to that condition for years. It wasn’t until her psychiatrist mentioned it that she even entertained the possibility.

Looking back, everything makes sense. However, for Davis-Pierre, who had gotten used to hiding her symptoms, it was still a shock. She was unaware that her anxieties, social interaction difficulties, and stimming behaviors like nail-biting and hair-twirling could all be part of the diagnosis. She also has a high IQ, like many high-functioning adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

„I never thought about ‚autism.‘ I just thought these traits were part of my personality,“ says Davis-Pierre, who is now a licensed mental health counselor in West Palm Beach, FL.

She also experienced exhaustion, depression, and fatigue, common issues for adults on the autism spectrum. Spending so much time trying to hide symptoms and decipher social cues can be draining, especially in social interactions with non-spectrum individuals. This phenomenon, known as „autistic burnout,“ is a key symptom that Dr. Joel Schwartz, a therapist in San Diego, often sees in his practice.

Schwartz, specializing in working with adults on the autism spectrum, notes that many of his clients have spent their lives trying to conceal their symptoms. Over time, suppressing who they are can be tiring.

„Patients often burn out in middle adulthood or even younger, wondering why they lack energy when everyone else seems to have it,“ says Schwartz. „Trying to meet the expectations of others over the years weakens the personality one is – leading in some cases to depression, anxiety, and even suicide.“

Many seek help when they are tired of social rejection and anxieties. Negative events, such as a reprimand at work for missing a social cue, can prompt someone to finally seek assistance. Others may experience heightened emotions related to sensory issues like loud noises, strong smells, and bright light.

Fortunately, more adults are seeking an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis. As the veil is lifted, they find their own community, often online.

„One positive aspect of social media is that it creates spaces for people to discuss their experiences,“ says Schwartz. „Some find resonance in the experiences of other autistics.“

Schwartz focuses initially on addressing sensory needs, which can have a profound impact on the emotions of someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Simple tools like noise-canceling headphones and sunglasses can make a significant difference.

His goal is for clients to recognize their strengths and not feel burdened by their differences. „We want people to maximize themselves on their terms, so they can ultimately be happy instead of feeling ashamed,“ Schwartz adds.

Psychologist Lauren Megrew, PhD, from Scottsdale, AZ, feels liberated since receiving her autism diagnosis five years ago. She has dedicated her career to helping others going through the same experience.

Megrew focuses particularly on women, who she believes often go undiagnosed. Like Davis-Pierre, she has a daughter on the autism spectrum. When her daughter was diagnosed, Megrew noticed she had many of the same symptoms. „I always thought I was quirky and dramatic,“ she says.

Megrew explains that women struggle more to get a diagnosis because they tend to mask their symptoms better than men. She emphasizes the importance of a strong therapeutic relationship in obtaining a diagnosis.

Healthcare professionals use the DSM-V from the American Psychiatric Association to diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder. The diagnosis is based on a person’s symptoms, signs, and tests.

Many individuals go through the DSM process with their therapists to obtain a diagnosis.

Megrew notes that women generally face a tougher battle to get a diagnosis. She explains the issue extends beyond gender to race and ethnicity, emphasizing a lack of understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder, such as the myth that it mainly affects white men.

Davis-Pierre agrees, acknowledging her privilege as a Black woman in receiving her diagnosis and helping her children get diagnosed. Despite the challenges, she sees growth in the experience, understanding and accepting herself.

Now that she knows the truth, she reaches out to others and helps them navigate the same process. She founded a company called Autism in Black to support Black parents with children on the spectrum and hosts a podcast of the same name.

She sums it up by saying, „The diagnosis has explained so much about me.“

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