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Is Autism Ever Misdiagnosed?

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From a young man in Germany: In the past few months I read a lot about Autism and its symptoms and I noticed how many of them applied to me. Let me give you some examples:

Ever since my childhood Ive been very shy and to this day its very difficuilt to me to talk to anyone, my own family included. I avoid eye contact when talking to people and if I force myself to keep eye contact it makes me very anxious.

During my childhood I had problems with motor coordination and Im still kinda clumsy today.

When I was younger I always used to jump around when watching an exciting movie or playing an exciting PC game. I was forced to stop doing that so I instantly switched to shaking my hands whenever I got excited and Im still doing that today.

I also got very weird eating habbits like eating the same stuff everyday or sorting candy into different colours etc.

So all those things made me kinda question wether I got some form of Autism. But according to my mom I already got tested for it when I was 7 with a negative result. Is it possible that this diagnosis might have been wrong?

Is Autism Ever Misdiagnosed?

Answered by on -


Thank you for asking an important question — both for yourself and for our other readers.

Yes. Autism is often misdiagnosed. In fact, adults in some studies report they were misdiagnosed as many as 7 times. Common misdiagnoses are bipolar, anxiety disorders, ADHD, OCD, avoidant personality disorder or borderline personality disorder. Sometimes symptoms in children are dismissed as shyness or over-sensitivity.

Misdiagnosis can lead to ineffective treatment, like prescription of unnecessary medications or talk therapy that misses the point. It can also lead to the individual suffering from low self-esteem or believing that there is something so odd about them that they have difficulty functioning in the social world.

You were tested 14 years ago. I give your mother lots of credit for getting you evaluated at the time. She knew something was troubling you and wanted to get you help. It’s understandable that she believed the professional. It’s unfortunate you didn’t get the services and help you needed then. But a great deal has been learned about the autism spectrum since you were 7. It’s never too late to get a diagnosis and appropriate help.

Being on the Autism Spectrum is more common than most people know. According to the World Health Organization, about 1% of the world’s population has autism, that’s 1 in 160 children.  But there is no such thing as a typical person with autism. Autism is expressed by individuals in many different ways.

Yes, some people have found it limiting but others have found their particular set of autistic attributes to be valuable. Environmental activist Greta Thunberg has said that Aspergers (a label sometimes still used for high functioning autism) is her “superpower”. Universities and high tech companies are full of people with ASD who have a particular ability to focus on a narrow but important interest and/or who can see patterns where most of us can’t. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Albert Einstein are all said to be on the spectrum.

Your list of behaviors suggests to me that it is reasonable to suspect that your are on the autism spectrum. Do identify a therapist who specializes in autism and get a new assessment. If it’s true that you are a person with autism, you will then have some direction for getting good help.

In the meantime, you might find it helpful to read a few books by people who are on the spectrum. Among the books I recommend to clients are Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate: A User Guide to an Asperger Life by Cynthia Kim and Look me in the Eye by John Elder Robison.

I wish you well.

Dr. Marie

Is Autism Ever Misdiagnosed?

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2020). Is Autism Ever Misdiagnosed?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 26 Feb 2020 (Originally: 29 Feb 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 26 Feb 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.