Autism & Imposter Syndrome

Before diagnosis, many people feel like they don’t belong in the world – and when they finally get a diagnosis, it can finally make sense – but for some it doesn’t.

Once diagnosed, many people can feel even more out of place in the world. The Neurodiverse world is such a huge new place to be thrown into and make sense of, there is so many new things to understand and try to work out in your minds, that for some it can be extremely overwhelming and can leave people questioning if their diagnosis was correct. Admittedly, this seems to be more common in people who are diagnosed as adults, but it can also happen in those that have been diagnosed at an early age too and are learning about themselves as teens or young adults.

For many people on the spectrum, they spend a long time masking – so in many aspects of their life they can feel like an imposter, as they are trying to play a role they think will fit in, and will behave differently in front of different people and not be representing their true self. Therefore, they can feel uncomfortable and lost in many situations that are outside of their safe spaces and have to truly be themselves and essentially vulnerable.

It is found that many Autistic people may be more affected by Imposter Syndrome because they may have a history of failures – in the education system and socially, which can often include being rejected by others and thus feeling like the outcast.

I think there is also a certain pressure to seem ‘normal’ even in a neurodiverse setting – including going to school, being successful and accomplishing things, getting a job and be fully functional in society. This can cause intense pressure, and lead to burnout. In some instances like this, it can result in a persons true challenges being acknowledged, meaning that they could feel undervalued and could give them the mindset that they do not below.

Even in the media, on social media etc – there is a certain way people think people with Autism should behave and what they should look like etc. This narrative can actually have a negative impact, not only for raising awareness, but for Autistic people themselves – if they feel they do not fit in this narrative – it could lead to them feeling that they are a ‘fraud’ or they are somewhere between Neurotypical and Neurodiverse – and therefore do not fit in anywhere.

When you doubt your autism, in addition to your own discomfort, others who may also be close to you never hear about your experiences and they may never discover their own autism diagnosis. It is not your responsibility, but, you may hold some information that may help others, and helping others can be a wonderful experience for both of you. 

What To Do About It 

  • Open up about it. Be wise but vulnerable about what you are experiencing while embracing your own autism diagnosis, traits, and features. Knowing you are autistic is a gift, and it is wise to be selective with whom you share that gift with. Not everyone will understand or believe you.
  • Seek out people who understand.  Seek out people who provide a safe place for you to talk about your experiences.
  • Attend group therapy or social groups to safely talk about these things. There may be some in your area or online.
  • Make a list of the things you feel like an imposter about. You can share this list with knowledgeable people with whom you trust and get some feedback from them.
  • Do not jump to conclusions about faking it. Instead, get comfortable with the idea that you are becoming more aware of your autism traits and features every day and may be more comfortable being yourself with less masking. 
  • Watch your self-talk. Sometimes the most harmful and inaccurate messages come from ourselves. Tell yourself that no two autistic people are alike and that it is okay to be careful and to go slow through your process of self-discovery. 
  • Sometimes a professional diagnosis of autism can go a long way in overcoming imposter syndrome and can be validating. 
Make a conscious decision to remind yourself of the things you actually control and do not control. Worrying if you are fabricating autism symptoms or if you were mistakenly diagnosed will not make it go away because autism is not something you can decide to have or not have. Enjoy your life as much as possible. 

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