Rediscovering Myself: Diagnosed with Neurodivergence at 40

Being a woman and an adult are two conditions that make the diagnosis of ASD difficult. Therefore, certain interventions can be extremely useful. Here's my own personal story.
Rediscovering Myself: Diagnosed with Neurodivergence at 40

Written by Editorial Team

Last update: 28 February, 2023

Who would ever have thought there was a proper diagnosis for my strange kind of behavior? That, I was, after all, different from the rest. Indeed, when I was presented with the report of my neurodivergence, it wasn’t as if they were telling me something new, but rather as if they were finally agreeing with me after so many years.

In fact, my diagnosis of ASD didn’t arrive until I was 40, as has happened to many others (especially women). I didn’t exhibit repetitive behaviors or get into trouble at school. I even had a small group of friends. Moreover, I got good grades and respected the rules of coexistence.

Because of this, my ‘eccentricities’ became a part of me. Over time, they became embedded in the back of my mind, repeatedly reminding me that I was different. However, they didn’t really go any further and I accepted that I was just a little strange. Therefore, it wasn’t really too much of a surprise when I finally received my diagnosis. This is my story.

Woman thinking
Without knowing it, I was an expert in masking.

Social integration and masking

My stereotyped behaviors went unnoticed. I forced myself to look others in the eye. I was able to socialize in groups or go to parties, even though I needed a day in bed to recover afterward. And my selective eating was viewed by others as me simply being fussy.

Consequently, the traits I exhibited that were linked to the autistic spectrum and that could’ve precipitated a consultation and a diagnosis weren’t sufficient for the adults around me to direct me down that path. So, I had to continue to survive in a neurotypical world. This meant I had no choice but to imitate some behaviors and integrate certain conventions into my behavior.

The symptoms of ASD in women and girls often go unnoticed. This is because the diagnostic criteria are biased towards the male population, despite the fact that there are differences between the phenotypes of both sexes.

Thanks to this adjustment in my social behavior, which I later found out was called masking, I was able to go through my childhood and adolescence without really deviating from what was expected of me. I just acted as I thought others expected me to behave. I was successful at it, so just kept doing it until it became a part of me that I didn’t question. Nevertheless, the pain was still there, behind closed doors.

The consequences of underdiagnosis

As I told you, my neurodivergence diagnosis didn’t come until I was 40. It meant that, until then, I had to deal with the maladaptive part of my brain makeup. My social burnout was seen as extreme shyness, and my crises of frustration as explosions of rage. I was extremely mature in some ways and childish in others, they said.

But, what I was feeling was real. Moreover, my feelings against injustice were stronger than the rest of the world and I felt attacked in ways that others didn’t seem to experience. My hyperfocus became an obsession. Every relationship I had suffered as soon as it got too deep but I didn’t know why. Above all, my identity was shattered. In effect, while I had built a functional personality for others to see, I knew that I didn’t process the world in the same way as others.

Hence, I became depressed. I had treatment for it. I was also treated for my relationship with food and the consequences of the abuse and the toxic people I’d suffered in my life. Yet, my neurodivergence signals continued to be seen separately, not as integrated. They were viewed as a set of disorders rather than a specific condition and its consequences.

Woman crying, representing neurodivergence
It took a long time for me to discover that I had ASD.

Neurodivergence at 40: a beginning and end at the same time

It isn’t easy to find signs of autism in a person who’s been masking neurodivergence for more than 40 decades. However, I only had to meet one other person like me, recently diagnosed with ASD, to recognize it. When we had a conversation about their experiences, diagnostic process, and the difficulties they’d gone through, it was like looking in a mirror.

Thanks to them and a few others, I managed to make an appointment to get a diagnosis. In the meantime, I devoured all the information about ASD that I could find, both in the clinical and social realms. In fact, it seemed incredible to me that, in all my life, no one had ever brought the subject up before.

With each article, each testimony, each link that I identified with, I became more convinced that no one around me had wanted to face reality. The fact was that I was different and my brain configuration had a name: autism spectrum.

When the diagnosis confirmed everything I’d read, I felt completely liberated. This was me. I was different, worthy, and didn’t need to try and fit in anymore. Today, although the road continues to be tortuous in a world ruled solely and exclusively by regulations, I now recognize who I am.

While I’m continuing to explore myself, I now know who I am and show myself to others. I explain who I am and what I need. Those who can’t or don’t want to give it to me don’t hang around. After all, there’s no point in them staying so we just end up suffering together. Masking, burnout, depression, my difficult relationship with food, everything is still there. But, finally, my pain is mine and I can learn to heal it as I need.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bargiela, S., Steward, R., Mandy, W. (2016). The Experiences of Late-diagnosed Women with Autism Spectrum Conditions: An Investigation of the Female Autism Phenotype. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 46(10), 3281–3294.
  • Conner, C. M., Cramer, R. D., & McGonigle, J. J. (2019). Examining the diagnostic validity of autism measures among adults in an outpatient clinic sample. Autism in Adulthood1(1), 60-68.
  • Harmens, M., Sedgewick, F., & Hobson, H. (2022). The quest for acceptance: a blog-based study of autistic women’s experiences and well-being during autism identification and diagnosis. Autism in Adulthood4(1), 42-51.
  • Lockwood Estrin, G., Milner, V., Spain, D., Happé, F., & Colvert, E. (2021). Barriers to autism spectrum disorder diagnosis for young women and girls: A systematic review. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders8(4), 454-470.
  • Malik-Soni, N., Shaker, A., Luck, H., Mullin, A. E., Wiley, R. E., Lewis, M. E. S., Fuentes, J., & Frazier, T. W. (2022). Tackling healthcare access barriers for individuals with autism from diagnosis to adulthood. Pediatric research, 91(5), 1028–1035.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.