Sat. Jun 3rd, 2023


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Ask Amy: A new diagnosis inspires important questions

4 min read

Dear Amy: I am a 45-year-old woman who was just diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

I never suspected I might be autistic until last year, when a friend discovered that she was autistic and sent me some articles about the non-stereotypical ways autism can present itself in women.

After going through the professional evaluation process and learning more about autism, I am almost certain that both my older sister and my 80-year-old mother are on the spectrum, too.

Should I tell them about my diagnosis and suspicions about them? If so, how? We are a family that never discusses emotions or meaningful experiences, but I am in almost daily text-message contact with both of them (about trivial things like cooking or sharing photos of our dogs).

I would be uncomfortable even bringing up my diagnosis because it is virtually taboo to discuss our inner lives within the family.

In my teens and early 20s, my mother bluntly told me she didn’t want to discuss the hard parts of my life, and that has set the stage ever since.

However, I think that if my family members are on the autism spectrum, the understanding that would come from learning this information could be life-changing for them in important and positive ways.

On the other hand, would it be too upsetting for my aging mother, who despite a lifetime of trauma has always eschewed introspection and therapy, to be confronted with this possibility at her age? Please help!

— Nervous & Uncertain

Dear Nervous: Surely this new awareness into the workings of your own brain would bring you insight into the dynamic within your family. It seems to me that if your mother is also on the autism spectrum, this might at least partially explain her discomfort with diving into more emotional matters. Communication is a common challenge for those on the spectrum.

The downside to experiencing an exciting epiphany as an adult is the tendency to press your own experience — and the positive insight that flows from it — onto others with an urgent enthusiasm that can actually deter people from following your lead. (This is also a common occurrence with people who enter therapy.)

You want for your family members to experience the same insight as you’ve had, but you should be aware that a diagnosis for them also serves your purposes, because it confirms your theories and suspicions about them.

You should share your insight with your mother and sister the way your friend did with you, using “I statements,” and describing your own experience.

Ask them if they are interested in receiving information about the evaluation process, and then leave the rest up to them.

Dear Amy: My parents divorced — more or less amicably — many years ago.

My father remarried a few years ago, and his wife is nice enough, but given that my siblings and I are all adults, we don’t think of her as our stepmother but more as “our dad’s wife.” I do concede that my father seems very happy with her and they seem to have a nice relationship.

Every year when Mother’s Day comes around, I think about sending her a card, and then I decide not to. I think this is something that would make her happy, but I honestly don’t want her to make too much out of it. She has adult children of her own and I assume that they recognize her on this day, just as I recognize my own mother.

What do you think I should do?

— On the Fence

Dear On the Fence: Send her a card.

If you can’t find one that fits the relationship in a way that feels comfortable to you, you could send a generic card and write a message: “I appreciate the role you have in our family. Happy Mother’s Day.”

Dear Amy: You advised “Just the Facts,” who wanted information on his wife’s long ago lover, to leave it be.

Presumably her lover was prior to their 57-year marriage.

What if, as in my case, my wife had a lover in the early stages of our 54-year marriage?

We have never discussed any details of this affair, but it often is in my thoughts.

Do I try to obtain information from her now, or leave it be?

Infidelity can be explained, but not undone.

— Forever Haunted

Dear Haunted: Yes, I heartily encourage you to open up to your wife. Expressing your own vulnerability might inspire her to do the same.

A therapist could help to guide this conversation.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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