Updated: Nov 7
Lara Schaeffer's Path to Understanding Her Autistic Identity
I'm Lara Schaeffer, an advocate for autistic identity, and I'd like to share my journey of self-discovery and acceptance. In this article, I'll answer the questions sent to me by Jackie Schuld, an art therapist who works with autistic clients. My story of realizing my own autistic identity is a testament to the power of self-awareness and the importance of validation within the autism community.
Q: How old were you when you learned you were autistic? (If you want to protect your privacy, you may select a decade “In my 40’s”)
A: I was 45 when I realized I was autistic, and I was 47 when I was evaluated and diagnosed.
Q: How did you learn you were autistic?
A: My journey began when my daughter exhibited atypical behaviors as a child. Despite multiple assessments for autism, no concerns were raised. Her strong receptive language and eye contact contributed to the belief that she didn't have autism. As she excelled in school, it seemed that her differences were merely a result of her advanced development. It wasn't until the age of 15 that we received the ASD diagnosis.
The Mother-Daughter Connection
I had an instinctive understanding that if my daughter had autism, I might as well. Our close bond and similar ways of interacting with the world made me consider the possibility. While initially reluctant to seek professional validation, my commitment to autism advocacy led me to pursue an official diagnosis.
Skepticism and Invalidation
My diagnosis expert warned me that my diagnosis could be met with skepticism. This became evident when I shared the news with my closest friend at the time. Instead of understanding, her responses were invalidating, further emphasizing the importance of validation in the autistic community.
Q: How did you feel when you learned you were autistic?
While in many ways my journey to identification meant that I wasn't very surprised when I was diagnosed, in certain ways, it still came as a shock to officially learn of my autism. I thought that maybe my decades of masking and doing my best to act like everyone else would affect the evaluation. To hear the professional describe my differences to me was an odd epiphany: "Yes, I am not like most other people." Yes, for sure, EVERYONE is unique; everyone is different in their way. But autistics are especially different, and we can feel it when interacting with others and negotiating everyday life. In that way, my diagnosis was validating and affirming.
Q: How have you modified or adapted your life since learning you’re autistic?
A: When I first received confirmation that I was autistic, I took back my own time. I recognized for the first time how much I mask in my professional life and even just casually out of the house, and I gave myself 100% permission to drop that damaging mask when I was by myself. I realized how much energy I expend interacting with others and allowed myself more rest in the evening and on days off. That came at the expense of keeping my home as tidy and organized as I used to feel compelled to do, but it was an easy give and take for me to decide on, as I needed to begin to heal. Now, even in regular society or at work, if a difficult interaction, noise, or smell affects me too much, I distance myself, or I protect my ears or nose, as quickly and as best as I can. It doesn't matter to me in the least if that makes me seem odd to others.
Empowerment Through Understanding
Now I have the knowledge and tools to proactively manage my life. I know how to prepare for overwhelming situations and am unapologetically myself. Understanding my unique perspective on the world empowers me to lead my best life and be a voice for my autistic identity.
Q: Do you have any works, websites, or other creative ventures you would like to share with others? (please provide links.)
A: Yes, I am the owner of Autism Discovery (www.autism-discovery.com) where I offer guided self-assessment for autism. I help those who wonder about their relationship with autism come to an understanding of whether or not they are autistic.
I also work with previously diagnosed, newly diagnosed, and self-diagnosed autistics to help them live their best lives. I am here to listen and to guide, and I am eager to share my training and experience for the benefit of others.
account where I share autism insights.
In my journey, we have seen the power of self-discovery and the significance of recognizing one's autistic identity. It's a reminder that seeking validation and acceptance is essential for personal growth and advocacy within the autism community.