Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Getting an Aspergers diagnosis as an adult

I was diagnosed at 26.  It took me that long to get diagnosed even though I'd been showing obvious (in hindsight) autistic symptoms since I was hours old, and had been seeking help for mental health issues since my teens.

Getting an Aspergers diagnosis should start with your general practitioner.  They can give you the referrals you need to see other specialists (I saw a psychologist, a psychiatrist and a person-who-does-EEGs in the course of my own diagnosis) and should generally be steering the ship in regards to your overall health care.

However, all too often, getting an accurate diagnosis after you hit double figures comes down to pure luck.

I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety while I was at uni, although treatment began and ended with a packet of Cipramil.  This was before the internet was as pervasive as it is now, in the days when looking stuff up online meant driving to uni and hoping there would be a computer free.  So I couldn't research depression the way we can today, couldn't find out about the importance of diet and exercise and therapy and all the other things the doctor either didn't tell me or didn't know herself.

Life went on and I did my thing, on and off meds, for the next couple of years.  Eventually things got bad enough that the employee assistance program for the place I was working at the time referred me to a psychologist.

Here's where I hit a stroke of incredible good fortune:  the psychologist I was initially referred to was booked out until forever, as psychologists often are, so they sent me to someone else instead who had an empty spot because of a last-minute cancellation.  That someone else happened to be the one psychologist for hundred kilometres who specialised in Aspergers in adults.

That's pure luck.  If that happened in a movie you'd call bullshit.  I could easily have been referred to someone else and I'd probably still not be diagnosed today.

Some people work out they have Aspergers without going through the official diagnosis process.  For instance, they could have a diagnosed child or sibling and they recognise themselves in their relative. But personally, without an official diagnosis I doubt I would have ever realised.  I don't have a diagnosed relative, and pre-diagnosis all I knew about autism was Rain Man and some shitty old Readers Digest articles from the ’80s.

And that makes me wonder just how many people like me are out there, who have no idea this thing exists or that there’s this whole community of people like them, because they’re not lucky enough to have stumbled across the entrance to the rabbit hole the way I did.

Luck should not play a role in getting an accurate diagnosis.  Our whole health care network, from doctors to therapists to Indigo Child woo-woo merchants and all points in between, needs to lift their game and do better.