My adult daughter was diagnosed with autism. It changed everything.

Meredith Cummings
8 min readApr 1, 2021

Nothing could prepare me for the unplanned beauty and fear of having an adult child diagnosed with autism.

Isabel on The University of Alabama quad (where she attends college) just after the pandemic began.

My daughter, Isabel, and I are out with friends. She is 17 and, unknown to us, a pandemic is barreling toward us from across the ocean. We’re having fun. She’s been accepted to several colleges and I’m looking forward to having an empty nest because society has taught me that’s the true measure of successful parenting.

Isabel and I are best friends. Gilmore Girls with double the age difference. People find that either endearing or weird. We don’t care.

A friend shares some exciting news. Isabel says she is excited for them but her facial expressions don’t match the words she is saying. No one notices except me. I’ve learned to pick up the small nuances.

On the drive home that night she’s exhausted beyond measure. I’m happy and jittery because I had so much fun. I could have stayed hours longer. She says she feels like she just ran a marathon. She puts on her headphones, leans back in her seat and closes her eyes.

“Rest,” I say, knowing this calms her. “When we get home you can go into your room and curl up, alone.”

I quietly, once again, worry about her stamina. Something is wrong, I’m just not sure what it is. Soon she would be diagnosed with anxiety and depression, which was stunning.

She was always such a happy kid. Always.

Just months later — after she suspected for years and I dismissed it — she was diagnosed with autism.

Public schools had not caught it. Medical professionals had not caught it. I had not caught it. It was Isabel — with relentless drive and research — that figured out what was going on and asked me to have her tested after her psychologist, unprompted, told her, “You may have autism.”

“But,” people say to her, “I can’t even tell!”

Or, to me: “No one will ever know! She’s doing such great things in the world.”

No one looks autistic. I want everyone to know this.

Many autistic people have “special interests.” Isabel is one of them and it makes my head hurt but I love her more through…

Meredith Cummings

Freelance journalist, Teaching Assistant Journalism Professor at Lehigh University