My Teenager’s Recent Autism Diagnosis

© fizkes from Getty Images via

There’s a Facebook video of my daughter Jody that went viral in our friend circle. She was three years old and on a ride at the local fair. It was one of those slow-moving boat rides where kids had to pair up, and as an only child, she was excited to sit beside a new friend.

The little boy who shared her car looked overwhelmed as Jody talked rapidly, non-stop; his eyes widened as they darted from side to side in panic. With her advanced vocabulary and refusal to let him get a word in edgewise, the other child was clearly uncomfortable. He looked like he wanted to jump out of that boat and run as far away from her as he could. 

Unaware of his discomfort, Jody continued to spew information about boats, pirates, and the seven oceanic bodies of water. A friend of mine recorded the interaction, and it still cracks me up to this day. As the boat came to a stop, the little boy looked relieved, and Jody was nearly breathless. She looked dead at the camera, exasperated, and loudly proclaimed, “This kid doesn’t understand me!”

As humorous as it was at the time, this interaction was pretty common for my daughter. In preschool, her teacher mentioned her tendency to parallel play; Jody enjoyed playing beside the other children but preferred solo activities. As a three-year-old, she knew all the names of the adults at her school but could barely name any of her peers. The preschool staff shared that her high vocabulary made it hard for the other children to relate to her.

I’m an educator and noticed possible early signs of autism. Jody’s eye contact with others wasn’t consistent, and she became hyper-fixated on different subjects for months at a time. She waved her hands while talking excitedly, and I wondered if this was stimming

After speaking with her pediatrician, he did not agree. He stated that Jody has reached and exceeded all of her developmental milestones, loved social interaction, and expressed her emotions very clearly. Her teachers also dismissed my concerns and described Jody as a “quirky genius.” 

At home, she began repetitive behaviors like lining up her toys and reciting lines from her favorite shows over and over. I told myself that she was a typical three-year-old and that I was overthinking things. She felt intense and hyperfocused about certain subjects, but I remember being stuck on things as a child. My interests were dolls and dress-up, while Jody’s were geology and geography. 

I noted Jody’s preferred interaction with adults and thought maybe it was because she related to them more not as a trait of autism. There weren’t any invitations to birthday parties or play dates, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. I continued play dates with my friends’ children and signed her up for extracurricular activities. She still engaged in parallel play, but I had hope. In my mind, she was just a quirky kid who had trouble making friends; as she grew older, she was bound to find a peer connection. 

The following year, she entered kindergarten as a four-year-old and was at the top of her class. All of her test scores were 4-5 grade levels ahead, and the school assessed her as Gifted and Talented. She was in High Ability classes for the rest of her elementary years. I thought this would be the answer to her social challenges and knew that she would find a quirky friend match. I thought wrong.

Her parent-teacher conferences were like a broken record. She’s excelling academically but not socially or emotionally. Jody began having meltdowns during transitions at school, crying and whining when she had to finish a task quickly. By third grade, my husband and I had heard the word “anxiety” enough that we decided she should go to therapy.

During the next two years, Jody began counseling sessions outside of school and Skills Training with Cummins Behavioral Health System. They were game-changers for my girl! She learned to regulate her emotions, transition more smoothly, and recognize social cues. Through her Skills Training, she role-played how to engage in dialogue and exercised her listening skills. Jody replaced stimming behavior with fidget toys and sensory tools.

The global pandemic happened before she entered middle school. Jody’s social interaction with our family and friends disappeared as the world was socially distanced. All of the skills she learned from therapy slowly left, and Jody seemed depressed. She had suicidal ideations, and her world became dark. During this time, she researched autism and desperately wanted a diagnosis. I wasn’t ready, so I dismissed her request for years.

Fast forward to the present day, Jody is a proud teenager with autism. When the psychologist told her that she had Asperger’s Syndrome, her reaction was similar to those who got the Golden Ticket on American Idol as she jumped up and down, cheering and smiling. I was less enthusiastic.

It’s hard not to beat myself up for not knowing earlier. I’m an educator who has co-taught for years in inclusive classrooms. I have a Special Education teaching endorsement. Why didn’t I see what was right in front of my eyes? 

The negative self-talk spiral is not productive or helpful. When I start to go down that road, I bring myself back to the present. Currently, I’m researching more about ASD and learning so much. Jody is skilled at Autism Masking, or camouflaging her neurodivergent characteristics. She consciously changed her behavior, all day, every day, to cope with school and social situations. A part of me feels bad because of all the effort that took, but mostly, I feel proud of my resilient girl.

Jody advocated for herself when even her own mother doubted her. She researched on her own after knowing she felt different than others. Navigating life as a teenager is hard enough, but having autism has made life even more challenging for her. Just like the little boy in that boat at the fair, a lot of people may not understand her. The important thing, though, is that she has actively taken the steps to understand herself.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.