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Self diagnosis - autism, ADHD, giftedness - Sue Mahony


Self-diagnosis is usually where we start. Getting a diagnosis of giftedness, autism, ADHD, and other neurodivergence usually involves self-diagnosis, professional diagnosis, and/or peer-review diagnosis.

Even to follow the professional diagnosis route – and thereby gain access to e.g. medication, public or private health service support – you’re probably going to self-diagnose first.

Typically, someone starts to think there might be something wrong with themselves. Is it depression? Anxiety? Some kind of condition? All of the above? They look around for signs and symptoms, stumble on some keys terms like giftedness, autism, or whatever. Then they deep-dive down the rabbithole. The self-doubt kicks in for a while (am I? aren’t I?). The quest for professional diagnosis to confirm our suspicions. And/or a growing inner confidence that yes, we’ve checked out information, we’ve sought external perspectives, we’ve thoroughly self-examined, and it can’t *not* be what we’ve identified it to be.

Or your social media feed is growingly full of content by (mostly) ADHD or autistic creators and you start to suspect something of that for yourself. So you set off to investigate… You find out about neurodivergence, giftedness, twice-exceptionality

When it comes to diagnosis, it’s fascinating that a lot of sources talk about identifying giftedness, but diagnosing autism, ADHD, dyspraxia and a whole host of other learning disabilities. Personally, I like to stick to identifying – not least because officially only qualified and trained medical professionals can diagnose. I will interchange freely, mind you.

Occasionally, we get diagnosed by peer review. Funnily enough, neurodivergent people tend to get on best with other neurodivergent people. So when you start to notice – or it gets mentioned – that many if not all of your closest people (especially bio-family members!) are neurodivergent, you very possibly are yourself. The number of mid-life people getting late-diagnosed with autism or ADHD because their kids have been diagnosed (or flagged as potentially by their schools) is significant.

Self-diagnosis is often the only route available to us for a number of years. The waitlists are long. The diagnostic teams are underpopulated and overwhelmed. So we investigate by ourselves.

My self-diagnosis journey

My own journey to autistic self-diagnosis took 10 years, if you count from when I first starting reading about autism – then often called Aspergers in (highly) intelligent people. It was only when I’d read most of the autism shelf in the local library at age 31 that I finally looked up and the penny dropped: Oh! *That* was why I kept reading these books! And resonating strongly with autistic experiences, and that kid in my maths class with the autism diagnosis…

Giftedness was easier and earlier to identify, and diagnosed by school test results: I was the brightest girl in school, straight-A candidate, and mostly aced my exams without working for the rest of the school year, much to the bafflement of my teachers. I wasn’t lazy – I just didn’t need to work to pass the exams… until later on.

An airport delay at 35 years old found me browsing the bookshelves, and on reading Elaine Aron’s book The Highly Sensitive Person, I recognised a lot. These days, I recognise high sensitivity as a trait shared by autistics, ADHDers and gifted people, amongst others. I’d love to see the research (if it exists / when it’s published) on the prevalence and overlaps between all of these.

ADHD self-diagnosis was a surprise, coming in round about the 40 years old mark. A close friend and I hung out at weekends with our kids, nerding out over brains, child development, the state of the world… Over time, I got curious about their ADHD experience and started looking into it. When I found the ADHD self-report assessment, I was surprised/relieved/curious to be ticking pretty much everything ADHD. I was glad that it made a lot of sense of previously identified ‘quirks of self’.

I have considered professional diagnosis. Not in the years I was in the Netherlands – the language gap was too great, I felt. But back home in England, I had The Conversation with my GP. She was supportive, and later that day sent me a couple of forms by SMS. Which I promptly forgot about (ADHD/long COVID?) and haven’t yet gone back to. The delays in the UK system – or the costs of private assessment – have so far kept this task from rising too far up my to-do list. Not that I have a list, but you know what I mean.

Oddly enough, the diagnosis/neurotype that I made sense of last was the one I knew about first: giftedness. A course with Intergifted on Gifted Psychology had me thoroughly revising my understanding of myself, my life, relationship and work histories, and the interplay with ADHD and autism. When I completed the course, and carried on exploring, digesting, and integrating the new knowledge that came from and after it, I had such a better sense of myself, how I operate, what I need – and what I definitely don’t need.

My school put us all through verbal reasoning tests – a measure of IQ. At around 12 years old, I took a pen and paper version of the MENSA home IQ test. My indicative score was high enough to go on to the next round of testing at a MENSA centre. But the faff involved put me off. More recently, I’ve considered taking an IQ test again – but with long COVID in the mix, my brain has *not* been on form. Intergifted offer qualitative Giftedness Profiling, which is on my sometime/maybe list.

Gifted people and self-diagnosis

Chances are, if you’re reading this you suspect – or you know – that you’re gifted. If so, you’re likely to be doing your homework before committing to a self-diagnosis / self-identification as any kind of neurodivergent.

You’re probably quite thorough – and thereby likely to avoid one of the dangers of self-diagnosis, which is to over-identify and the first whiff of similarity between your fine self and a list of signs and symptoms. But you’ll do better than that, right? It’s much more likely that you’ll doubt yourself for a long time – until you simply *can’t* doubt it any longer because the evidence is strong and many.

As a gifted person, you also have an inescapable drive to make sense of your experience – to make sense of yourself. It’s important to know how you best operate – with the right kinds of instructions for your giftedness and twice-exceptionality. And as a gifted person, there’s a *lot* of you to operate. Your brain, your sensitivity, your creativity, your intensity, your inner world… before we even get to your interactions with the external world! Self-diagnosis helps you shortcut to the useful stuff: you have this kind of brain, you need these kinds of operating principles. It’s certainly possible to explore this alone, as the intrepid solo explorer you are. Or you can get a guide.

You might be making the classic gifted move of overestimating other people – by assuming that your experience is typical – rather than widely deviating from the norm. By checking your experience against the general population, you’ll get a clearer calibration of where you stand.

You may have learned to mask or compensate for your other neurodivergence by applying your fine mind to solving the problem of, for example, missing executive function (ADHD).

You’re also likely to be quite sceptical of any diagnoses – including giftedness – until you’ve exhausted all other avenues for explaining how you are.

Next steps with (self-)diagnosis

1. Do Nothing

Happy as you are? Perfect.

2. Do Something About It

Go on, surprise me. Dive headlong into your local bookshop. Download all the audiobooks. Find all the podcasts. Consume alllllllll the information. Book an appointment with your GP. Or follow your intuition and see where it leads you – that works, too. Sometimes faster, you know.

3. Do It With A Guide

Hi. Have we met? I help gifted people figure themselves out, drop the stuff they don’t need, and grow into the magnificent being they actually are. Want more? Here you go.

The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this webpage are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this webpage. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this webpage. Sue Mahony PhD disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this webpage.

Sue Mahony PhD is gifted, autistic, and ADHD. She provides 1:1 specialist support for brains similar to her own, giftedness group programmes, speaking and bespoke support for organisations, and a wealth of articles on this website.

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