Kiwi mum writes children's book following her and her 10yo son's autism diagnosis

The mother of a boy with autism has written a children's book about experiencing an emotional meltdown.

However, it isn't based on her son's experience - but her own. 

Jess Falconer is one of a growing number of New Zealand adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, who often only find out when their own child is diagnosed.

The Falconer family are still adapting after a recent move from Wellington to Otaki. However, it's not the biggest change they've faced. 

Sam, 10, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder four years ago. Two years later, his mum, Jess, was also diagnosed. 

"That moment was world-breaking, because all of the things about my brain that I thought were broken or didn't work actually had a really reasonable, logical explanation," Falconer told Newshub.

It's a moment more and more adults are experiencing, according to Autism New Zealand. 

Many adults are only diagnosed when their child is, as that is often when parents start to examine their own behaviour. 

"Then they'll go back and get diagnosed... we're seeing a two-for-one diagnosis, which clearly increases the amount of people being diagnosed," says Autism New Zealand chief executive officer Dane Dougan.

In this case, it wasn't until Sam's doctor suggested a genetic link.

"Sam's psychologist sat there, looked at us and said, 'Which one of you does it come from?'" Falconer says. 

Even then, she didn't believe it came from her. She had been a lawyer, and ran a successful IT company with her husband, Simon. So she took an online screening test. 

"I did it 25 times in a row and it kept on coming up that it was likely I had autism," she says. 

The online test eventually led to a formal diagnosis at the age of 39. Her emotional meltdowns, social difficulties and fixation on certain topics suddenly made sense.  

"Going back over my own childhood with the lens of autism was amazing... it was like 'of course'."

At age 17, Falconer was described as 'gifted and anxious'. She underwent years of counselling, with little relief.

Now, knowing why her brain works differently has been liberating - for her husband Simon as well. 

"The delight, freedom and the pressure melting away seems to be the common theme for men and women who discover, or are married to people on the spectrum," he told Newshub. 

Autism New Zealand estimates one in 59 New Zealanders are on the spectrum, although it's not known how many of those are adults. 

Clinical consultant psychologist Tanya Breen attributes the recent increase in adult diagnoses to a growing awareness.

"I would probably have adults contact me two or three times a week to see if they can have a diagnostic assessment," she says.

The oldest person Breen has diagnosed was 78, and she believes there are many more out there.

"There's a big population of autistic adults in New Zealand and most of them are undiagnosed."

Autism New Zealand is changing its system to accommodate the demographic shift.

"It's endemic around the world that there is not great support for adults with autism, so we're trying to work on that now," Dougan says.

Falconer has found writing to be helpful. She is releasing a children's book in October about a young girl having a meltdown. It's a book she and Sam read together.

"He also understands what a meltdown is, and it's given us a common language to speak about," she says. 

She hopes it will provide a common language for other families who are understanding their autism.