The missing generation is Autistic/NeuroDivergent adults, typically growing up in the 1980s or earlier, who were not discovered to be NeuroDivergent as children (because of diagnostic limitations of the time).
Autism was not even in the DSM until 1980. So prior to 1980, Autistic People weren’t even listed in the diagnostic manual. That generation, and generations prior grew up when understanding was very limited, leaving generations of Autistic People undiscovered, or missed.
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All right internet Lyric here, pale skinned, non-binary human, with short green hair and shaved sides wearing a black and gray striped t-shirt & no makeup today. I am sitting in this RV, as is typical, and today I’m going to be talking about the missing generation of NeuroDivergent, Autistic, ADHD, various brain types, adults that we have, and why are they missing? Where are they? If you want to know more, please stay tuned.
So let’s, let’s talk about this missing generation that I mentioned briefly in the intro. Where are they? Who are they, and why are they missing?
The missing generation is adults that were typically growing up in the 1980s or earlier, who were not discovered to be NeuroDivergent as children, because at that time, especially for, with autism, for example, autism was not even in the DSM until 1980. So prior to 1980, Autistic People weren’t even listed in the diagnostic manual, and so that generation, that grew up during that time, when understanding and autism awareness was even very limited, we had the whole generation of Autistic People who were undiscovered, or missed.
When autism was added to the DSM in 1980, it would then take time for this new information to become widely accepted among medical professionals and others who utilize the DSM manual.
The other thing with autism being added in 1980 is that, at that time, and even today, we see this problem, that the diagnostic criteria, and a lot of the focus on autism was around children.
In 1980, a lot of people still believed that you could potentially grow out of being Autistic, so all of those Autistic adults, who were missed up until 1980, were then still ignored, once the diagnostic criteria was developed; because it was only focused on Autistic children. It’s been a lot of years and not much has changed.
I went through the diagnostic process and I am counting my lucky stars that I had resources that I needed to go through that process. I had adults who were experiencing me growing up, caregivers, and friends, who I had known since I was a young person that could be interviewed.
I had baby videos, and I have proof of how I was as a child, but I shouldn’t have needed proof of how I was as a child, in my opinion.
I, strongly, feel that the criteria needs to be developed, so that we can understand adults, but not based on our childhood appearances and our childhood behavior. We need criteria that takes masking and other co-occurring conditions that become more common with Autistic adults who are late discovered or late diagnosed; because not knowing you are Autistic for large parts of your life is a special kind of trauma, that can have specific impacts on a person, and we don’t have diagnostic type criteria that takes that into account, or understands those nuances, because even today it is still focused on children.
Now if we fast forward to the year 2006, the American academy of pediatrics was starting to recommend screening all children for possible autism in pediatric visits at 18 and 24 months, 2006, all of these years later, we are still only focusing on children, even though we know, at this point, that Autistic people do, eventually, grow up and become adults, still, a lot of these adults are left with little to no support or help.
For example, I’m 34. I am a millennial. In 2006 I had already graduated high school.
That doesn’t help me very much, as Autistic adult, who was completely ignored, and I went through school and struggled having no support, because nobody knew I was Autistic.
We have had a lot of stories about Autistic People that don’t include autistic voices. When I would read the medical books, talking about Autistic People, because the perspectives were often neuro-typical ones, I didn’t, really, see myself reflected in those stories, but after I was diagnosed Autistic, and it was recommended that I read resources, books, and watch videos that other Autistic people were creating… I finally, for the first time in my life, saw myself and felt really seen.
All of these little things, details about myself that I thought were strange, weird, a lot of things I hid, because I felt like nobody in the world would understand, where suddenly things that Autistic people around me were discussing, and even embracing.
It let me learn to have self-compassion, which, though I have had lots of compassion for others, and even animals, my whole life I had had very little compassion for, and was often very hard on myself.
I needed to know I was Autistic, because I had been constantly comparing myself to, and holding myself to, neuro-typical standards. I was constantly burning out and making myself even physically, mentally ill, because when you think you are a neuro-typical and you struggle with things that other neuro-typical people find easy, those ways in which you struggle, or you feel you would don’t measure up; because people around you are constantly telling you, you don’t measure up, becomes so magnified.
All I could see was my weaknesses, and I couldn’t even appreciate my strengths, until I found out it was Autistic, and started to heal from that trauma, and learn to love myself again.
Something else I’ve noticed about this missing generation of Autistic People is some of them, because of all of the misinformation, and this heavily stigmatized, stereotypical information, that is out there about autism, and Autistic People right now… a lot of these missing NeuroDivergent people are not ready to be woken up, because when you suggest to them that they might possibly be Autistic or a NeuroDivergent, they often will have a lot of cognitive dissonance, that will not allow them to possibly approach this subject of conversation with you.
The thing that I find a bit difficult with dealing with any Autistic or NeuroDivergent Person who does not know they are NeuroDivergent, and doesn’t want to admit that they are NeuroDivergent, is often, when you share something about your own NeuroDivergent experience, and how being NeuroDivergent impacts you, personally, they will be some of the most dismissive people and say, “well, I’m not Autistic, and I do that” or “everybody does that” and it’s like, “No Autistic people do that. No, NeuroDivergent people do that.”
I mean, some things are things that everybody does, genuinely, but, if you’re relating to everything I’m saying, I’m not saying you’re Autistic or NeuroDivergent, but you might want to investigate further to see if it makes sense for you, and get more information.
I feel a lot for NeuroDivergent People who don’t know they are NeuroDivergent, and that missing generation of Autistic and NeuroDivergent adults that are out there, who may never find out in their lifetime about their NeuroTypes.
What I have learned from meeting these NeuroDivergent People, is that a lot of times, they are actually struggling in life, and not having the language or understanding of how their brains work really does hinder them, just like it hindered me, when I thought I was a neuro-typical, and really tried to hold myself to those expectations and standards, and continued to fail miserably while doing so.
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7 thoughts on “Where are the Missing Generation of Autistic & NeuroDivergent Adults?”
We have many family members on the spectrum but as you say, only the young ones have been diagnosed (I’m in my 60’s). I am certain my older sister and younger one fit in here somewhere. Without autism as a possible diagnosis, I fear they been slotted into incorrect boxes, if that makes sense.
This is an interesting post and I was fascinated to read it. I was a special education teacher who became an administrator supporting students with special needs. I remember students coming to our city from around the country because The Mind Institute put a large facility working with understanding the roots of Autism. Would be interested in communicating about this period which feels like it’s hasn’t had much consideration in the evolution of practice and support.
ADHDer here! First off, I love your words. Thank you so much for sharing! I’m younger, but had a similar experience in school since I didn’t know my neurotype until I was about 22-23 years old. My personal favorite was “you’re so bright, why don’t you perform better?” I identify with that challenge, especially since Autism unfortunately has similar stigmas attached to it. I think it’s great that you shine your light and have such empathy for folx who haven’t discovered their neurotype! I see it a lot in therapy with my patients and it is a really big piece of our identities that unfortunately that “missing” generation never got. We just gotta keep our light shining so others can see theirs <3. I love your message and I hope to see more 🙂
I am 49 and diagnosed seven months ago. I realized I might be autistic after reading the book Nobody Nowhere at age sixteen. The author was classically autistic, but I identified with their experience of leaving their home and being overwhelmed. But I understood humor and recognized emotions and had too much empathy so I never mentioned my suspicions to anyone, ever. I gaslit myself for three more decades because the psychiatric community had not caught up to my teenage self identification. Thirteen years ago a therapist who filled in for my usual therapist noticed I rejected a tissue because I liked the feeling of tears running down my face and she told me to go get evaluated for a developmental disability (she didn’t say which one) at the local university. I was on disability for POTS and living in low income housing. I just shrugged it off and went on with my life, assuming that thinking I could be autistic was pathetic and me just wanting an easy way out of my severe mental illness. Last year my teen begged me to join Tik Tok and the rest is history. I found an autistic therapist who charges a sixth of what most professionals charge and here I am. I have been stumbling around trying to deal with resurfacing trauma, and worsening sensory issues, and reframing my life with few resources. I thank my lucky stars that you:, Lyric are here to help guide us. My life has been full of so much pain and everyone in my life has been negatively impacted because I did not know until now. I almost died of an eating disorder six years ago. I share my story on Tik Tok in hopes that it brings other missed adults to a better understand of themselves and bring them home. We are mutuals on Tik Tok My username is playing.koi. I look forward to your posts every day.
I know what you mean, i was born in 1980 and had a diag of physcopath at age 12, which my mum rejected and told them where to put their drugs. i would not get my autisum diag till i was 36 after waiting year on the nhs list, after being sent to a service for squides who had ptsd 1st and having to start the wait list again.
I now have 4 cousins on the spectrum, and find most of my male rels on my mums side are to.
Born in the 1960s, first exposure to any concept of autism was the film “Rain Man” – however limited that was in its representation. Aspergers wasn’t even recognised explicitly until 1994. ADHD was ignored unless extremely disruptive (inattentive ADHD was completely ignored – beyond sending people for hearing tests).
If neuro divergent people are round pegs, then they were fitted into square holes by just using a bigger hammer.
Things have moved on a lot.
There are a lot of people in some social circles who show ND tendencies but without them having any inkling of being ND, let alone being diagnosed.
I’m almost 60. Finding out I was autistic and ADHD this past couple of years explained so much — but they still don’t have any tools to help me deal with my old age, mostly because I learned to mask so much that we don’t really know just how extensive my issues -are-.