Exploring the “subtle spectrum” of autistic discovery

What is The Subtle Spectrum of autism? People looking for the genetic roots of autism have identified around a hundred genes linked to being autistic. The combination of these genes that a person receives determines their place on the dazzlingly diverse autistic spectrum.

For some people, their place on the spectrum is evidence and no one can miss it. For others, it can be subtler. Many autistics identified in adulthood fall into this latter category. 

My shocking autism discovery

I've spent nearly two decades working within special education, so am aware of autism in a way someone who's spent 20 years working in a bank, for example, might not be. Even so, despite suspecting I was autistic since the age of 11, when I was finally diagnosed aged 36, the impact still sent shockwaves through my life.

I did what I always do: I explored the knowledge base out there. I took up an anonymous persona online and explored autistic communities around the internet. I dug through the blogs of lots of other people diagnosed in adulthood. I devoured research on the topic. And I began to spot patterns.

I think of the steps of recovery for alcoholics, or the stages of grief people describe after experiencing a death. I wish I could think of a positive example, for this has been a positive experience, but it is one that seems banded with a commonality of experience. As personal and unique as our own journeys are, those of us identified as neurodivergent in adulthood seem to pass through similar phases and stages in our understanding, and in our relationship with those around us.

How I hope The Subtle Spectrum helps

I set out to map those stages in The Subtle Spectrum. Let me put a disclaimer out there from the start, this is not an Ordnance Survey map, this is more of a sketch with the edges marked with “here be dragons”. Many kind and brave people contributed their personal stories to its pages, and I’ve inserted pop-out boxes with the sort of need-to-know research information throughout. 

People say “write the book you wish existed”. This was the book I needed when I set out on this journey. It’s not a perfect map, but at least it makes a sort of sense of the new landscape of understanding yourself as a neurodivergent person.

If you know someone diagnosed with a neurodiverse condition in adulthood, this is for them, and if you want to gain insight into what it is like to live as a neurodivergent person within a neurotypical world, then this is for you.

The foreword is by author Steve Silberman, author of the award-winning book, Neurotribes, described it as a “wise and compassionate book” and an “uplifting read for anyone on the spectrum, and for readers who want to comprehend the nature of autistic experience”.

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