Diagnosis/Assessment What now?

Person’s hands holding up a cardboard sign with writing in black saying What Now?

Have you recently received an autism or ADHD diagnosis? Perhaps you’ve had a dyslexia or dyscalculia assessment?

Maybe you’re just starting to explore whether you could be neurodivergent. Perhaps your child or partner is going through an assessment and you’d like to support them through the process.

As a therapist specialising in working with neurodivergent people, I wanted to share my thoughts, tips and resources for navigating this stage.

To Assess Or Not To Assess?

View of person writing on a clipboard

So you may be at the stage where you’ve become aware that you might be neurodivergent (autistic, ADHD etc). What’s your next step? You might be the type of person who will put all your energy into reading everything you can find on the subject (hyper-focus anyone?!) Or you might find that this revelation brings up some feelings of fear that you’d rather not face all at once. Whichever camp you fall into, it’s probable that you will be feeling a mix of things – confusion, fear, relief and anger could all be in the mix.

It’s possible that one of the biggest decisions that you may face is whether to get an assessment or a diagnosis at all. A lot of factors will be at play – Do you (or your loved one) need a diagnosis to access support? Do you want the diagnosis so you can get some certainty? What do you feel when thinking about getting a diagnosis? What do you think about labels? And another big question people often have is – I don’t feel like I am neurodivergent enough, will I even get a diagnosis? For some people, despite identifying very strongly with a certain condition, imposter syndrome kicks in and they might doubt they will even get a diagnosis. And when UK waiting lists are long and private assessments expensive, this is likely to be a big factor.

It’s important to note here that self diagnosis is just as valid. There is a greater acceptance of self diagnosis in the neurodivergent community and, if this works for you, then I would suggest reading more from the community on this.

It can be really helpful to talk to someone at this stage, whether a friend or a professional, to work through your thoughts and feelings on this and help support you through the process if you decide to move forward with an assessment.

The Up and Downs

When getting a diagnosis (or self identifying) it can bring a mix of emotions. The transition curve below is a useful model which helps us to understand the stages someone goes through when going through change. Of course it can be different for everyone, but the transition curve can be helpful to figure out where you might be.

The transition curve

The transition curve also recognises that there are ups and downs on the journey. Don’t be surprised if there is a second dip after a period of feeling positive about the diagnosis. It can be helpful to note down how you’re feeling along the way. Perhaps consider journaling to keep track of how you’re doing – more on that below.

Identity

A rainbow infinity symbol - the symbol for neurodiversity

You may find that, while considering what all this means for you, you start questioning your identity. It may be that initially you don’t identify yourself with other autistic people, or others you know in your life who have ADHD. We all know of those stereotypes; the autistic boy who has an intense interest in something and wears ear defenders all the time. Or the hyperactive, impulsive child at school who can’t sit still in the classroom who has ADHD.

These stereotypes have accumulated through years of films, TV and other experiences you’ve had. We know however there is a huge range of ways neurodivergence can present. As this becomes more recognised and assessments become more wide ranging, it follows that the neurodivergent community includes all different people from all different walks of life.

But of course those stereotypes may initially inform your idea of what autism or ADHD is. Maybe what you feel or experience jars with these stereotypes and it brings up all kinds of feelings for you.

A really good way to get a wide ranging view of what neurodivergence is, is to seek out stories of lived experience from a range of people. Social media is great for this, and there are a lot of great Instagram accounts which give personal insights and experiences which might help you.

Some Instagram accounts I particularly like:

  • @mollys_adhd_mayhem
  • @autieselfcare
  • @women_have_autism_too
  • @adhd_couple
  • @the_mini_adhd_coach
  • @dyslexia_in_adults
  • @autability

You can also follow my Instagram where I share therapy and neurodivergence related resources @newgladecounselling

Understanding

A large sign by the waterside in red saying Understanding

A big part of discovering something new about yourself, is understanding what this means to you. If you can start understanding your experiences through a ‘neurodivergent lens’ it can help you work out how best to manage any difficulties, and how to build on your strengths.

A good model to help understand how things can be overwhelming for a neurodivergent person is spoon theory. First introduced by Christine Miserandino in 2003, spoon theory was initially used to explain how someone with chronic illness may struggle day to day. It’s now used much more widely and many autistic or ADHD people also find it resonates with them.

Newglade Counselling’s poster of spoon theory

Another big part of understanding your new diagnosis, is how it informs the way you look back on your earlier life. You may have mixed feelings about how different things could have been if you had known about this aspect of yourself earlier. There can often be some anger about this. It’s important to acknowledge how this new diagnosis can change the way you view your past and to be proud of where you’ve got to without it.

Acceptance

A lady looking at herself in the mirror and smiling

Acceptance is something that often takes time to achieve. It’s also very tied up in identity. As a therapist, acceptance is a big part of the work I do with my clients.

There are lots of things you can do yourself to help you work towards acceptance of a diagnosis.

Start with looking at all your strengths – list all the values and attributes that make up you. Maybe it’s your attention to detail, your great intuition or your sense of humour. Focusing on your strengths, including the small things, can help you think more positively about yourself.

Journaling can be a great way to reach some acceptance. You can write in a notebook, on your phone, or on a specially designed app. Just start by writing whatever comes to mind, don’t try to make it perfect. Or you can use journaling prompts to help get you stated. A few to start with…

  • What do you appreciate most about your personality?
  • What three things would you say to your teenage self?
  • 10 interesting facts about yourself

For more creative ways to work on your self development, see my article, 5 Ways to Calm Your Anxiety With Creativity

Therapy

Two people sitting down opposite each other in conversation with a clipboard on a table between them

You may find you would benefit from talking things through with someone. Therapy can help you gain new perspectives and build self confidence. It can help you to process all these new feelings and find coping strategies which are effective for you as an individual. Importantly in this context, therapy can also help you look back on your earlier life through a neurodivergent lens, perhaps processing experiences or emotions that feel different now you have this new information about yourself.

For someone who is neurodivergent it is so important to find the right counsellor. There are many different types of therapist and you may find it helpful to find one who has some knowledge of neurodivergence and/or additional training in this area.

As a therapist who specialises in working with neurodivergent clients I find that my flexible approach offers a safe, comfortable space for someone to explore what they need to. I wrote an article on Therapy and Neurodivergence which may offer you some insights into the process. Many of my other articles are relevant also so you may want to take a look around my blog pages.

I also offer one off coaching sessions for parents of neurodivergent teens who may wish to gain more understanding and some coping strategies for their child. Please see my parent support page for more details.

My resources page also has some free worksheets and posters you can download that may also be useful. You can see a variety of products on my Etsy shop, such as my Neuro cards, to help explore neurodivergence further.


Amy is a qualified counsellor working in Kent and online with adults and adolescents. Amy works with a range of issues and specialises in working with neurodivergent individuals and their families.

Contact Amy below for more details or to book a free introductory video call.

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