Embracing My Authentic Self: The A Word

By Brooke Trenwith

This is what AI came up when I asked it to define autism. I asked politely, using please and thank you.

Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a complex neurodevelopmental condition characterised by challenges in social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors or restricted interests.

It is called a spectrum disorder because it encompasses a wide range of symptoms and severity levels, with each individual experiencing autism uniquely. Autistic individuals may also have sensory sensitivities and differences in processing information.

Autism is a lifelong condition, but with appropriate support and understanding, individuals with autism can lead fulfilling lives and make significant contributions to society.

I then asked it to give a definition of autism from an autistic point of view.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental identity characterised by diverse ways of thinking, perceiving, and experiencing the world. It encompasses unique strengths, challenges, and perspectives. Autistic individuals often prefer identity-first language, such as “autistic person,” to emphasise that autism is an inherent part of their identity, shaping who they are and how they interact with the world.

I definitely prefer the second one. How about you?

At this stage, I was well invested in my conversation with ChatGPT. I wanted to know why women in their 40s were only now being identified.

The increasing recognition and diagnosis of autism in women can be attributed to several factors:

  • Awareness and Understanding: There’s a growing awareness and understanding of autism spectrum disorders, leading to more accurate identification and diagnosis across all genders. Previously, autism was primarily thought to affect males, leading to underdiagnosis or misdiagnosis in females.
  • Improved Diagnostic Criteria: Diagnostic criteria have evolved to better capture the diverse presentation of autism across genders. Historically, diagnostic criteria were based on studies predominantly involving males, which may have overlooked or minimized the unique traits and challenges experienced by autistic females.
  • Research and Advocacy: Increased research into autism in females and advocacy efforts have shed light on the unique characteristics and challenges faced by women on the spectrum. This has led to improved understanding among healthcare professionals and educators, facilitating earlier and more accurate diagnosis.
  • Masking and Camouflaging: Females with autism often engage in masking or camouflaging behaviours to mimic social norms and hide their autistic traits, making it more challenging to recognize their differences. As awareness grows around these masking behaviours, clinicians are better equipped to identify autism in females.
  • Greater Acceptance of Neurodiversity: There’s a broader societal acceptance of neurodiversity, including autism, which encourages individuals to seek assessment and diagnosis without fear of stigma or discrimination. This cultural shift promotes inclusivity and empowers individuals to embrace their neurodivergent identities.

Overall, the increasing diagnosis of autism in women reflects a positive trend toward greater understanding, acceptance, and inclusivity within both healthcare and society at large. It highlights the importance of recognising and accommodating the diverse needs of all individuals on the autism spectrum, regardless of gender.


I remember a moment in a boardroom at a school about 10 years ago. I was chatting with a teacher and he was telling me about him being diagnosed autistic after his son receiving the same diagnosis. He was raving about the experience and how much freedom he now had in life. He then asked me how I felt when I was first diagnosed…

Arriving home, I was in a state of confusion. I am neurodivergent but recognised later in life (gifted at age 26, dyslexic at age 32). I am not/ wasn’t autistic.

I can people.

Lara Nettle uses that statement in own Potential to Performance course about autism.

I can people.

Surely, if you can’t people that would mean you are autistic.

Surely, the fact that I can make eye contact means that I am somewhat ‘normal.’


Age 8, crying myself to sleep saying the words ‘when I get older I will fit in. People will understand me.’

Age 12, crying myself to sleep saying the words ‘when I get older I will fit in. People will understand me.’

Age 20, crying myself to sleep saying the words ‘when I get older I will fit in. People will understand me.’

Age 25, crying myself to sleep saying the words ‘when I get older I will fit in. People will understand me…’

You get the picture.

I struggled to understand why certain social interactions felt so draining, why sensory overload seemed to hit me harder than others, and why I constantly felt like I was trying to navigate a world that spoke a language I didn’t quite understand. It was like I was living in a perpetual state of feeling out of sync with the world around me.

I didn’t get that I was playing the same game as everyone else but I was on the ‘hard’ level.

10 years ago I buried that conversation.

And every conversation that happened after that.

At age 44, I finally fully participated in the A word conversation in regards to myself.

For so long, I had been trying to mould myself into the narrow confines of what society deemed ‘normal.’ I was exhausted from constantly masking my true self, trying to fit into a world that didn’t quite understand me. But now, I had permission to embrace my authentic self fully, quirks and all.

Yet my brain continued to tell me that I was not ‘autistic enough to be autistic.’

But at what cost was masking this having to me?

I dropped the mask.

No longer did I feel the need to hide my stimming behaviors or suppress my sensory sensitivities. Instead, I began to celebrate them as integral parts of who I am. Stimming became a source of comfort and expression, rather than something to be ashamed of. And let me tell you, the sense of relief that came with allowing myself to be unapologetically me was pretty cool.

It also meant I got three new ear piercings. I had wanted them for decades but when you are trying not to stand out… you don’t do anything deliberately that may make you stand out.

Of course, embracing my autism hasn’t been without its challenges. There are still days when I feel overwhelmed by sensory input, struggle to navigate social interactions and the absurdity of small talk. But now, I approach those challenges with a newfound sense of understanding and self-compassion. I no longer berate myself for not fitting into society’s narrow mold of acceptability. Instead, I recognise that ALL my neurodivergence is a beautiful and integral part of who I am.

I still people really well. In fact my presentations are getting the most amazing feedback since I dropped the mask/s.

So, to anyone out there who may be grappling with similar feelings of not quite fitting in, I want to offer you this message of hope: you are not alone, and you are worthy of being seen, heard and valued. Embracing your authentic self may be a journey filled with ups and downs, but I can promise you this — it’s a journey worth taking.

And finally did I ask for this diagnosis to be written down and ‘official.’  No, I didn’t. I did get it peer-reviewed though.