I’ve had a glass of wine…and this is a long one…
I need more time to focus on a very important subject matter…female autism!!!
But after a discussion online today, I wanted to share a few things before I get the time I need to really do the subject justice.
There is so much literature out there and of course much of it conflicts. Read as much as you can!
We are living in an exciting time where more information is becoming available. Sadly, people, including professionals, are still working on out of date criteria and myths about autism!
Obviously autism is a spectrum and I am not claiming that there are not overlaps between individuals and genders. But, there is enough evidence to show clear differences between male and female autism/Asperger’s.
Today I came across a mother on a parents of SEN children support group who was describing her daughter’s behaviours. These included hand flapping, excited noises, being overly social, singing all the time, talking a lot, getting on better with boys than girls, not really fitting in, playing alone despite trying to interact, having only one or two friends…
I recognised immediately that this girl was autistic. The reason I recognised this is because this was me as a child. These are just a few of the behaviours…barely the tip of the iceberg.
The mother said that the paediatrician had dismissed any concerns that this child was autistic because she could socialise and make eye contact.
As the day has progressed, this has made me feel so many emotions. Sad, angry, infuriated, hurt, incentivised…
I wish there was some way I could focus on helping people understand autism and more specifically, female autism.
I am not diagnosed yet but I know who I am. People have told me for years that I can’t be autistic because I can socialise and make eye contact. They invalidate the struggles I have faced. I spent a lifetime feeling left out and isolated despite playing by all the rules. So I could fit in, I spent hours trying to teach myself how to be interested in some of the things other children around me talked about. I trained myself to make eye contact. I tried to be everything that wasn’t natural to me. I spent many hours crying when people didn’t understand me.
I feel so grateful to have had my mum who talked me through why other people said and did the things they did. And helped me understand what things made me stand out for all the wrong reasons.
I used to hyperfocus on whatever I was interested in and spent time, up until my late teens, recording songs, playing on my keyboard, making videos etc while all of my friends were out drinking. When my auntie taught me how to knit, I didn’t think twice about taking it into school to complete during play time the next day. The other kids were mean! I couldn’t see why! There are so many incidents I could share right now as I go through spells/loops where all of these failed interactions and facial expressions haunt me. What these interactions taught me at the time was that something I did was wrong. So even if I didn’t quite understand what I had done…I knew I had to use a trial and error approach until I was accepted.
The other problem with being autistic is that even when you learn lots of strategies, the awkwardness and uncertainty doesn’t stay behind in childhood…it follows you into adulthood. As a young woman I was extremely rule driven, very black and white, and used to offend people with my opinions without even trying. I have always conducted a lot of research and find comfort in facts! Since the General Election I have realised, in my 30s, that this is not something society can handle.
Another issue is bullying. I was bullied at school, by family members, by different workplaces…and I could not work out why. For some reason, there was just something about me that people targeted. At one workplace I was told that they believed I was trying to make my colleagues look bad by performing so well. Another colleague from another workplace actually told me (when we first realised I was most likely on the spectrum) that she found this to be a relief as she thought I was trying to stand out to the Headteacher and apparently the staff had discussed me in the staffroom. She said that me being autistic made so much sense and made her feel better.
What they didn’t realise is that as an autistic person, I am a perfectionist and I hyperfocus on tasks until I have achieved what I want to achieve. I have always lived in my own little world, competing only with myself and my own expectations…yet I was perceived as having ulterior motives that were less than pure. I was accused of saying or meaning things that I would never say or mean. All I can put it down to is that many women have underlying meanings when they say or do things. With me, what you see really is what you get, but it seems that people find this hard to believe. I have always been quite naïve and I think this was part of the problem. Very often people would manipulate me into saying or doing things and on more than one occasion, words were definitely put into my mouth. These days, I keep my circle small and trust very few. It’s a shame, but it’s an easier way to live.
My mum always said that I wore my heart on my sleeve and gave too much away about myself. She used to say that it hurt her to see how pure I was and how people took advantage of that. Another autistic trait. She also used to say that I only ever saw the best in people, and I was so proud of that.
I think this is why I connect with children so well. There are no hidden agendas and codes to deconstruct. I find them so easy to work out and to work with.
Autism is not a mental health condition but it causes mental health issues for sure. When I was a teenager I considered ending my life…and that wasn’t a cry for attention. If it wasn’t for my mum having her wits about her and intervening, I would have absolutely been another statistic.
As I have said before, trust your instincts. If you suspect a female in your circle is autistic, research, research and research. They will need you to be their friend, support and teacher, with or without a diagnosis.
This is one of very few times I have openly talked about identifying as autistic because to be honest, most people dismiss it as soon as I mention it. Without a piece of paper from a professional (probably a neurotypical) who is attempting to diagnose from out of date criteria, people don’t take you seriously. Sadly, people are ignorant and don’t attempt to educate themselves before expressing their opinions. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s true.
I recently told some family members that I was going for my diagnosis and they looked baffled.
Well, I didn’t answer because to ask that question, they clearly don’t get it.
This is who I am. This is my identity. And now my children are going through the process, I feel it is the right time.
I also think it is really important to stand up and show the world that there are more female autistics than we have been led to believe. Here we are blending into the background, pretending to fit in, when in fact we don’t.
People talk about autism in such a negative light. I want to show that we are intelligent, loving, kind, sensitive, empathetical and successful! Some autistics struggle more than others…but it’s not like that for all of us.
I am proud to think the way I do and although it has brought me pain, it has made me who I am today.