Diagnosing Up the Family Tree: When You Realize You Might Be on the Spectrum

That moment when you realize your child isn’t the only family member on the spectrum…

So, adults can be on the spectrum. And so can women.

Two profound sentences that really shouldn’t be quite so profound, but we continue to be amazed when we find women on the spectrum.

When You Realize You Might Be on the Spectrum

Here is a typical scenario in my office: I’m meeting with a mom about her child. She casually mentions that she has fully researched all the available practitioners in our area, detailed notes about treatment options, suggested timelines, and school schedules (to reduce missing school by scheduling appointments on days off). I squint, observing the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) dotted throughout the mom’s narrative, and wondering if she knows she might be her child’s best ally for reasons other than she thinks.

I might mention, “You seem like you truly know this child best—the way she thinks, feels, and what she really needs.” Currently, about half the time the answer is, “Yes, because I am her mom.” The other half of the time the answer is, “Yes, and honestly, the more I read, the more I wonder if I might also be on the spectrum.” I’m left wondering if the diagnostic gender ratio isn’t really 50-50  and if perhaps more moms are on the spectrum than we think…or than we fail to think.

I’ve later asked these moms, “How does it feel, that moment when you realize your mom superpowers come from a place you didn’t expect and when you realize you, too, might be on the spectrum?” Most of my moms take a moment to really ponder the question. Their answers generally sound like:

  • I had no idea I was on the spectrum. I thought I was just shy.
  • I always wondered how the other girls figured things out. I thought there was something wrong with me.
  • I often felt left out or isolated, but didn’t know that feeling was related to ASD.
  • I just didn’t click with the other girls. They talked about things that were kind of boring.
  • In hindsight, this helps me understand my dating issues.
  • Now those weird work experiences make sense.
  • Where were my parents and teachers? My life would have been easier if anyone actually helped!
  • Thank goodness I’m on the spectrum! I can give my child what my parents didn’t know to offer to me. I’ll improve on parenting, starting with my family.

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If I push harder, we get to highlight a combination of marvelous strengths and persistent loneliness.

These moms have a hard time finding each other, befriending each other, providing comfort. Sometimes that sense of isolation keeps the moms apart, even as they are working hard to help their children overcome the same hurdles of connection and isolation.

Back in the day, moms didn’t ask me if they might be on the spectrum. Now when a mom turns to me and asks, “What if I’m on the spectrum?” my answer generally approximates, “That would be great! My spectrum moms are the best parents ever! That would be such a gift for your child!” I’m hoping that as we better understand women on the spectrum, we also find better ways to provide meaningful connection and insightful resources. I’m also hoping that we learn from these super-moms about both ASD and parenting!

To all those moms waiting for the invitation, here it is: please, teach us! We want to learn. And I’m sorry we didn’t think to ask sooner!

This article was featured in Issue 98 – Fresh ASD Guidance For A New Year

Rachel Bédard

Rachel Bédard,PhD is a licensed psychologist practicing in Fort Collins, Colorado. She uses a strengths based approach and her clients note she has the ability to help them laugh about even the most stressful or embarrassing events in life. Dr. Bédard has co-written two books with her favorite Speech Language Pathologist, Mallory Griffith. Their most recent book is You’ve Got This!: The Journey from Middle School to College, As Told by Students on the Autism Spectrum and Their Parents. Learn more about Dr. Bédard and the collaborative books on her website www.drrachelbedard.com and thesociallearningproject.com

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