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Diagnosis and Stigma

You know those “labels” that we often shy away from because we’re worried about what they might mean for our kids? Worried they’ll put them in a box? Well, the thing is, a diagnosis isn’t there to label someone. Diagnosis forms part of a person's identity. When it comes to Autism and ADHD, It can be thought of like a description of how an individual's brain works. It’s there to provide understanding and support. It is very often the missing link. But why is there so much stigma associated with diagnosis? 

I’ve worked with many clients in their adolescent and adult years who have grappled with feeling like something was “off” or “wrong” with them. They didn’t understand why they struggled to fit into society. Why they had all of these challenges, or why they couldn’t find their place in the world. When they’d broach the subject to their parents, they would receive responses like “Oh yeah, the teacher did mentioned ADHD when you were younger, but we thought you’d outgrow it” or “ Yeah, it was brought up, but we thought you were doing fine, and we didn’t want to label you”. It’s understandable - these concerns are valid. 

However, the truth is, many of the individuals we work with express a deep wish to have known sooner - to have received a diagnosis or understanding earlier in life. They’ve had to piece together this understanding as adults or teenagers, often through channels like social media or therapy. When they do receive a diagnosis later in life, it’s like a light bulb moment - a mix of relief and frustration. Relief because the inner turmoil begins to make sense. They finally understand why their life has been the way it has, why they felt different, and why they struggled with certain aspects. Finding out that there is a description for their experience, that they aren’t alone and they are understood - and frustration because they wish they had this clarity sooner.

Think about it - during those adolescent years, teens are forming their identity. They are trying to answer the question, “Who Am I?”. For autistic teenagers, for instance, self-identity can be challenging. They might feel that they don’t “fit in” or feel the need to mask their autistic traits. Without a diagnosis, they’re left confused, feeling different, but not understanding why. With a diagnosis, this process can still be challenging, but there is an understanding of the “why”. Our young people are trying to establish a sense of who they are and where they fit in the world. Now, imagine having a significant piece of your identity missing. How can we expect our teens to form their identity if a crucial aspect remains misunderstood or ignored? It's no wonder that as adults, these individuals still grapple with their identity. Ultimately, a diagnosis puts the pieces of the puzzle together, and helps answer the question “Who Am I?”. 

Embracing and acknowledging a diagnosis, whether it’s Autism, ADHD, or something else - isn’t about adding a label. It's about recognising and celebrating a fundamental aspect of their identity. It’s about empowering them to navigate the world with confidence, with a deep understanding of who they are.

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