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Life After "Aha!": Therapy support following an adult autism or ADHD diagnosis

Why Therapy Can Be a Powerful Ally After Your Autism or ADHD Diagnosis 

Getting confirmation as an adult that you’re autistic or an ADHDer can be a life-changing experience and it’s our frequent privilege to be part of this through assessment and post-assessment therapy. The “Aha’ moment can be the launchpad for significant growth in self-understanding and for making changes to live life more fully. We love being part of this process and will share how therapy can help you thrive after a diagnosis or self-identification. 

 

Understanding your neurotype 

Many of us diagnosed or identifying as neurodivergent as adults develop a sudden and intense interest in the topic and might spend hours reading and watching everything we can. But not everyone who discovers they are neurodivergent as an adult has a special interest in neurodivergence! Whether or not you are fascinated by your neurotype, a therapist can help you gain a deeper understanding of autism or ADHD and its impact on your life. They can explain traits, strengths, and challenges and how they might manifest in your daily experiences. For example, a therapist can guide you through investigating the impact of executive functioning differences on your relationships and study/career, find ways to embrace those differences, and do things differently to better suit your way of working. 

 


Adjusting to a new view of yourself 

“Everything started to make sense”, “Now I know why some things, even things that I really put effort into, are just so difficult for me!”, “I feel like I’m meeting myself properly for the first time”. These are the sorts of things we hear when people have confirmation of their neurotype. It’s a moment of seeing your own strengths and challenges through the lens of neurology rather than personal failings and a profound opportunity to rethink your view of yourself. This is, ultimately, a powerful boost to self-insight but can also be quite confronting. Having a therapist accompany you for the journey can be an invaluable resource. It can help to provide some purpose to your reflections and some scaffolding to bridge your pre- and post-assessment self-awareness. 

 

Understanding your emotional reaction 

Many autistics and ADHDers who gain a new understanding of their neurotype in adulthood describe experiencing a wide range of feelings like relief, frustration, doubt, joy, grief, and shock. There’s no timeline for this and there’s no predictable sequence of emotions. They can come and go and feel mixed together at times, just like they do during any period of change.  

How can we help during this time? Our therapists are skilled at helping people identify what they’re feeling, have less distress about their feelings, and find enjoyment and meaning in the midst of it all. It can be very comforting to have a professional therapist help you through any big adjustment and it’s certainly true post-assessment. 


If you already resonate with the benefits of getting therapy support after a newly-developed insight into your neurotype, we’d love to help you. Reach out via our website form, email us at info@amherstpsychology.com.au or phone us on (08) 9456 0411 to find out more or arrange and appointment with one of our therapists. And to find out some more advantages of post-diagnosis therapy, read on . . . 

 

Find supports and community 

One of the key things that helps with adjusting to new insights about your neurotype is connecting with others with that same neurotype - your neurotribe. Most likely you already know many other neurodivergent people, and given how hereditary it is, you probably have neurodivergent family members. However, connecting with people who not only know their neurotype but are also on a pathway to understanding and embracing it, can be super helpful. A therapist can help you identify what sort of connection you’re seeking and how to go about finding your tribe. For example, joining a group that meets regularly based on a shared interest, a support group, or a coaching service. Articulating what you need is crucial to finding it and a therapist can help you figure that out.  

 

Not only that, but being able to advocate for your needs clearly and with confidence is a common goal for a therapy session. Adults who have taken on the lion’s share of responsibility for adjusting and working harder in the context of their neurotype, can struggle with speaking up for what they need in terms of not only what to ask for but how to ask. A therapist can certainly help you to develop confidence and self-advocacy skills. 



Planning for sharing about your diagnosis or self-identification 

Some newly-diagnosed people find other’s reactions about their diagnosis can be underwhelming or even hurtful. If there’s a good chance you’ll be faced with reactions that are invalidating, minimising, dismissive, or critical, a therapist can be an invaluable support in planning whether or not to share, how to go about it, and when. Disclosing your neurotype doesn’t have to be done all at once, if ever, but if it is helpful or important to you to do so, having a plan will be a great start. Your planning might include exploring the pros and cons, who to tell first, a script for what you want to share, and how to deal with common or anticipated reactions.  


Increasing self-compassion 

Many adults who are adjusting to learning about their autistic or ADHD brains are confronted by the amount of negative feedback they’ve received - and have often assumed was deserved or accurate. Having a therapist help you figure out the sort of feedback that is useful to you and what to do with other, less helpful or damaging criticism, is an important part of increasing your acceptance of yourself. The way you work, play, communicate, self-regulate and so on is very much determined by how your brain is ‘wired’ so it’s important to have a solid foundation of self-compassion. That way, your efforts to ‘work smarter, not harder’ or to increase your capacity in certain areas isn’t being driven by other’s critique or by self-doubt and shame.  

 


Reprocessing Trauma 

Neurodivergent adults are highly likely to have experienced traumatic events or distressing situations at some point in their life. In fact, autistic and ADHDer adults report much higher rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and adverse childhood experiences. This may be due to: 

  • Features and traits of ADHD or autism (e.g., impulsivity, more reactive nervous systems, greater sensory sensitivity) 

  • Undiagnosed or misdiagnosed neurodivergence for themselves and family members 

  • Greater vulnerability to social exclusion and mistreatment  

  • Co-occurring health issues including frequent minimisation and misdiagnoses  

  • Difficulty communicating what they need to be safe or about existing threats  

  • Under-reporting or normalisation of heightened levels of distress either by the person or their family of origin 

  • Misunderstanding by health professionals (e.g., if they don’t communicate their distress or lack of safety in expected ways) 

 

For all of these reasons and more, getting professional help for processing and healing from trauma or distress is often a turning point for neurodivergent people - providing that therapist uses evidence-based approaches (e.g., Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) and works from a trauma-responsive and neurodiversity affirming perspective. Fortunately, there is a lot of training available to therapists to support their work with neurodivergent people, but clients should satisfy themselves that a therapist is suitably trained and experienced. Trauma therapy can be incredibly effective and well worth considering for neurodivergent people. 

 

What next?

If you’re wondering if you’re autistic or an ADHDer, our practitioners conduct ADHD, autism and adult learning assessments for all ages. They are also skilled in assessing high-masking individuals or those with an internalised presentation - which often applies to women and those assigned female at birth. Or if you already know you’re neurodivergent and you’d like some therapy support, please get in touch via our website, email us at info@amherstpsychology.com.au or call us on (08) 9456 0411. 

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