My world fell apart when I was diagnosed as autistic

"It’s not been an easy journey but coming out the other end I’ve learned awareness is key. My mental health over the years would have been so much better if I’d known sooner."

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Reading an article about an autistic law student led one LawCare volunteer to realise they might be autistic too. The diagnosis process was emotionally draining, and work became even more challenging with forced disclosure and lack of support. Despite the challenges, they see a positive side to their journey.

I had no idea I was autistic until I read an article on LinkedIn about the experiences of an autistic law student (to whom I’m forever grateful!) As I read, I thought wow, that sounds just like me! After a cheeky “doctor google” search I found a video about Asperger's. I burst out crying as everything they were saying was describing my life, how I think, how I act, challenges I’ve faced etc. So I trotted off to a real doctor for a pre-test and got full marks for a referral for an autism assessment. This was very unsettling.

Filling in the very long medical forms was distressing. I felt completely stupid, embarrassed and uncomfortable. Then came the interviews, the questions, the prying into your private life, then seeing it all in black and white in the final report was really upsetting.

When they told me you have ASD (autism) I think I went into shock. I felt scared and alone, not really understanding what it meant. How was I going to tell people, how were they going to react? I didn’t really understand it myself, I didn’t know what reasonable adjustments I could ask for at work. I’d been masking autistic traits my whole life, constantly pushing myself out of my comfort zone because I thought it was normal. But my normal had just come crashing down. I didn’t know who I was anymore.

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Work threw a curveball at me. They pretty much forced me to disclose to partners that I was autistic. They did nothing to prevent me from being bullied, refused a workplace assessment that would have helped me understand what I needed, and denied reasonable adjustments. Additionally, they didn’t implement things recommended in the ASD report for months, by which point it was too late to help me. They treated me less favourably, causing psychological distress and completely destroying my self-confidence and esteem, leaving me in a very vulnerable and dark place.

I felt like a complete failure, how could a very successful solicitor be destroyed so quickly by a firm’s lack of support and failure to provide a psychologically safe environment?

Months on, after time out and therapy, I wonder whether I should even be a solicitor? Going forward should I even disclose I’m autistic? People have told me "don’t tell anyone" as if it’s a dirty secret, so I’m now conflicted.

It’s not my legal skills or ability to do the job, it’s the impact of others' attitudes and judgement. I know other autistic solicitors who have a very similar story to mine.  I’ve been most successful in my career with people not knowing but struggled in silence with my mental health taking the full impact.

There is of course a positive to all of this, the darkest times producing the strongest light …. I’m learning who I really am, understanding why I don’t enjoy networking and small talk and why I’m so organised, strategic and good at litigation tactics.

Why tell you all this? It’s not been an easy journey but coming out the other end I’ve learned awareness is key. My mental health over the years would have been so much better if I’d known sooner. Pushing myself to the absolute limit and burning out over and over again just to fit in is no way to live your life. I can now start to be myself and stop masking so much.

Unfortunately, I don’t see the legal profession being accepting anytime soon (except for a handful of trailblazing law firms who are taking this very seriously, thank you!), however with more of us coming forward and speaking up I hope that will change.

My message to law firms: please be kind, understanding and proactive in supporting your neurodivergent staff. Get your HR team and managers trained in supporting neurodivergent people as an absolute minimum. People asking for a reasonable adjustment is because they need it, it will help them be more productive and happier.

Finding support

LawCare has some wonderful neurodivergent peer supporters who will gladly support you through your journey. Whether you are wondering if you are neurodivergent or struggling at work, LawCare peed supports are there to listen and support you.

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We're here to listen...without judgement

Contact our free, confidential, emotional support service for the legal sector
0800 279 6888
Email our support team [email protected]

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