Antoinette Monks was diagnosed with autism and probable inattentive ADHD last year, at 71 years old.
“I have always known that I was different and always let everyone down but I didn’t know why,” she said. “That ‘not knowing why’ has haunted me throughout my life but it seemed impossible that I would ever find out why I behaved as I did.
“It’s exhausting being me. I am untidy, disorganised and have always been labelled as lazy. I have a terrible memory and did poorly at school – even though I always felt that I am intelligent.
“My parents were so disappointed in me because I achieved so little. That’s partly why I suffered depression in my late teens and early 20s. I was even given a diagnosis of manic-depressive psychosis.”
It was only in 2021, when Monks was watching Paddy McGuinness’s documentary about his three autistic children, that she self-diagnosed. “I was exhausted but elated at the end because I had recognised myself for the first time,” she said.
Monks contacted her GP. “After I had only been speaking to the nurse for a few minutes, she said I had already met every criteria for referral. I could have cried with relief. Someone believed me!”
The diagnosis has changed Monks’ life. “My first thought was quite selfish. I was desperate to be able to say my parents: ‘I told you I was intelligent.’ I also felt very sad that wasn’t possible.”
Monks said her diagnosis had finally made her into “a valid human being”. “I thank heaven that I have been lucky enough to be diagnosed in time to learn about myself and make changes to my important relationships,” she said.
Debra Brisch was diagnosed four years ago when she was 68. “I have not had a happy life,” she said. “My failures to succeed at most things in my life – from relationships, jobs, misunderstanding others’ motives and emotions, misunderstanding communication, directions, almost everything – were blamed on laziness, wilfulness, being mean and cruel, being stupid and all sorts of other moral failings.
“Never once was it suggested that I had neurological troubles nor that anything I failed at was not my fault,” she said. “Instead, my parents tried to change me through corporal punishment. I have been suicidal and depressed for most of my life from the age of eight. I’ve felt helpless to change anything about myself.”
Autism has dominated Brisch’s life. “Every day was a struggle. I am blunt and outspoken, and did not recognise that many things I said or did could cause anger, hurt and frustration to others,” she said. “I misunderstood almost everything I saw or heard due to my poor sensory processing.”
But her diagnosis has been transformative. “It was such a relief to learn there was a reason for so much emotional pain and my repeated failures in every part of my life,” she said. “I was not evil, bad, worthless. I wasn’t inept, a failure, a loser. It wasn’t my fault. I had autism!
“I felt vindicated, triumphant,” she said. “I now feel ready – finally in my old age – to face the world.”