Susan Boyle, the Scottish singer, spent a lifetime believing she had “brain damage.” Christina Gleason, a copy editor in New York, always thought of herself as a little “weird.
” But both women were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder as adults, and both say that diagnosis brought them immense relief.
Their stories echo that of countless others who learn later in life that they have a form of autism: Finally, they know where they belong.
We don’t know how many Americans are diagnosed with autism as adults; no one keeps track of those numbers. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism is most often diagnosed between a child’s 4th and 6th birthdays.
“Most children are diagnosed in early childhood,” says Amy Daniels, assistant director of public health research for Autism Speaks. “But I think for adults and a number of older adults — so, probably Susan Boyle’s age and older — when they were kids there was a lot less known about autism. So it would’ve been more likely that those individuals were not diagnosed at all.”
The diagnostic criteria for autism has changed dramatically, even in the last 20 years, explained Megan Farley, a psychologist at the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.