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Morgan Harper Nichols talks late-in-life autism diagnosis

At 26 years old, Morgan Harper Nichols dropped out of her first year MFA program and experienced what she recently identified as “.” She said something was going on in her life that she couldn’t identify and asked her doctor if she might be .

Without looking up from his clipboard, Nichols’ doctor said there was nothing wrong with her. For the next three years, while still undiagnosed and struggling, Nichols created art in what she said felt like “the unknown,” seeing it as an escape and also a profession.

In 2020, Nichols’ TikTok algorithm started recommending videos about adult autism diagnosis, which encouraged her to pursue six months of evaluation, leading to her diagnosis. Afterward, she wanted to share her experience.

“This is amazing, but it would also be amazing if other people could have this, too,” Nichols said in her talk. “Stories matter. Seeing yourself in a story matters.”

Hosted by , Nichols, an artist and advocate who wrote “All Along You Were Blooming,” discussed her journey with autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and sensory processing disorder (SPD) since being diagnosed in her 30s.

Nichols started her talk Wednesday by expressing her shock at the Syracuse snowfall, but her love for the “warmth” of her audience. Immediately, she sensed she was in a room of people who cared about imagining a better world where more people feel free to be themselves.

“I just think it’s so important that we address stigmas about not always doing your 100% best in all the areas all at once and to talk about creating space for yourself to breathe and the process and to just be who you are,” Nichols said.

Meaghan Krazinski, a Doctoral Candidate in Inclusive Special Education at SU and organizer for the event, related to Nichols’ circuitous experience in neurodivergence.

“I love the different connections that she brings and I feel like it’s also relatable to people that may be neurotypical, too,” Krazinski said. “(Nichols) definitely has an effect of bringing people together as a community.”

Syracuse University instructor Sara Jo Soldovieri’s class filled a row of seats in the Schine Student Center and whispered excitedly during the presentation. Soldivieri teaches students with diverse needs.

“I think in education broadly, but specifically in special education, when we talk about disabled students, we leave them out of the conversation,” Soldovieri said. “We talk about disabled students in this abstract way, but here is someone who is really important.”

Nichols’ story resonated with senior Claire Meagher, who cried while speaking with Nichols after the event. Meagher and her mother were diagnosed as highly sensitive people (HSP) at the same time Meagher started college. Meagher looked up to Nichols as a mentor since her freshman year.

Nichols shared stories about getting confused at the Department of Motor Vehicles; being overjoyed by a picture of roots, which she used to exemplify the concept of connection; and her in The Sims 4. The crowd laughed even while she discussed difficult concepts of neurodivergence.

“I’m still recovering from my birthday party I had at 20 years old,” Nichols said during her presentation. “I’m 34 years old, y’all!”

Throughout her presentation, Nichols emphasized the importance of community and establishing connections because she struggled with that. She recalled other people making friends easily and she wondered how. So, to end her presentation, she prompted audience members to raise their hands when they agreed that they enjoyed a certain activity.

Over the raised hands, she said, “Look around, these are your people… these might be your friends for life.”