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Late in Life Neurodivergence and Unmasking




There can be lots of thoughts that surface when you have a new diagnosis or suspicion of

neurodivergence. From relief to denial, to “ADHD and Autism are children’s diagnoses, right?


Otherwise, there would be so many resources for adults! I will admit, it can be jarring getting a diagnosis later in life, having our sense of who we are feels so unmoored suddenly. Let me assure you…you ARE normal…it’s just your kind of normal. Let me further reassure you, you are not broken, you don’t need to be fixed, you don’t need a cure; you just must learn how to make the world work with you instead of against you.


The world is built for neurotypicals, if you are unfamiliar with the term the definition is:

“not displaying or characterized by autistic or other neurologically atypical patterns of thought or behavior”. Generally stated: a neurotypical person thinks, perceives, and behaves in a way that is considered the norm by the general population. The “opposite” of neurodivergent. I, however, like to see it as two halves of a whole, you cannot have one without the other, and neither is inherently bad or good, they just are. In an ideal world, these things are discovered when we are children and we receive treatment and help in adjusting to how we function in the world, as with anything, however, some can be missed for a myriad of reasons. I am sure you assume when I say later, I mean 40 years plus, but even finding out in your 20s is considered a late diagnosis or realization. So, what do you do now?


The answer is very much up to you! If you want an official diagnosis there are avenues

where you can request that. If self-diagnosis is more your speed, and you are comfortable with it then by all means! For many the first step is to begin the process of unmasking, discovering themselves again.



"Unmasking" is the term used to describe a person unlearning behaviors they have either learned or been taught to suppress their more uncommon expressions of themselves and their neurodivergence. So how do we unlearn these things? Here are some tips!


1. Figure out your own pace

There is no required timeline, don’t compare to others. Take steps you are

comfortable with and proceed when you are ready.


2. Think about what you’re like when you’re alone

Notice how you behave when you’re alone and know you wont be interrupted. Do

you talk to yourself while you do things? Do you make noises or hand motions

as you speak or think. What interests do you indulge in?


3. Notice the behaviors you do for other people

People are taught or learn organically masking behaviors to “fit in” with society.

Some examples are forcing yourself to make eye contact, suppressing hand

flaps/fidgeting, talk less and smile more, etc. You may not dislike all behaviors

you picked up, and you do not have to get rid of them all if they feel natural.

However, if the only reason you do something is because you feel you should or

because you are afraid of what will happen if you don’t it will be hard to find self-

expression. Be aware of patterns and behaviors that you’re only doing to make

others comfortable at the detriment of your own comfort level.


4. Recognize Internalized Ableism

Unmasking some behaviors will be uncomfortable at first. Neurodivergent people

are told for so long things they do are wrong or weird. Unlearning ableist beliefs

will take time and give yourself grace as you sort through what you have been

conditioned to believe and what feels natural to you.


5. Let yourself rediscover passion

Neurodivergent people are often told their interests are irrelevant or that they are

a waste of time, but special interests and hyper-focuses are sources of creativity

and joy. Find what makes you happy and tickles your brain!


6. Find a Neurodivergent Community

Just as with anyone, community support can be super helpful to those with

neurodivergence. Spending time with people who understand your neurotype

and the difficulties of being neurodivergent can be very healing. They can help

you unmask because they can provide a safe space to do it.


7. Get Professional Support

The stages of unmasking can be difficult and there are a lot of them, getting help

from a professional can help. Self-expression is hard, but being more

authentically you is worth the work!


It can seem daunting, learning something so big and unlearning things so long held but beingtrue to yourself and giving yourself the space to be your authentic self can be freeing andhealing. You are still the person you always were, but now you can find joy in learning evenmore about yourself. Change can be uncomfortable, but change is not always bad! Give yourself permission to be exactly who you are with no judgement.


If you neurodivergent and are curious about working with someone to help with unmasking, I am here to help! You can call the office at 901-232-1956 or complete an online inquiry to get started today.


  • Written by: Kayla Elzie, Master's Level Clinical Intern



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