What is an Undercover Autistic?

When I started thinking about my book The Undercover Autistic, I quickly realised I was going to be writing about a very particular Autistic experience.

I am a late diagnosed adult who spent 44 years ‘pretending to be normal’. I have masked my challenges to a great extent and created complex ‘characters’ to help get through each day. I coped through mainstream education, gained a degree, and later worked my way up the corporate ladder in my chosen profession. I formed lasting friendships and am married with children.

How then to talk about the things I have learnt about Autism? I decided upon: Undercover Autistic.

So what do I mean by this?

  • The person can be any gender
  • May self-identify as Autistic or have a formal diagnosis
  • Can pass for Neurotypical in most aspects of their lives – where Neurotypical is defined as a person whose brain development follows the typical trajectory, according to some measure
  • Does not stand out as very ‘different’ from their peers
  • Often makes significant use of camouflaging techniques
  • Is probably easily exhausted
  • Experiences significant challenges which likely have gone unrecognised or misinterpreted
  • Has not had formal, relevant support for much of their lives, though they may have been in and out of therapy in an attempt to work out why they are struggling
  • Has likely been assigned various misdiagnoses over time, both physical and mental, and perhaps given inappropriate medication as a result
  • Is likely diagnosed in late teens or later life
  • May have low self-esteem and issues with confidence
  • Knows they are not like most of their peers, but doesn’t know why
  • Experiences elevated levels of anxiety and / or depression
  • Is at increased risk of hypervigilance and burnout

Crucially, being undercover, sometimes for decades, means when Autism is finally recognised there is the real possibility the identification experience will be far from straightforward. It may unleash a whole gamut of feelings, memories and new challenges which can prove very difficult to cope with alone.

As time goes by, for some, an identity crisis is a distinct possibility as we try to reconcile what we know of our past experiences considering this new label. This can be exacerbated by the fact that accessing appropriate, timely support can be very difficult as care paths in many countries remain poorly defined, expensive, or incomplete.

In The Undercover Autistic: Navigating Your Diagnosis I describe the wonderful techniques and concepts I discovered along the way and which helped turn things around for me following diagnosis.