I always know when I wake up to a rainy day. I don’t even need to hear the drops tapping on my window, or open my eyes. It’s that heavy, dense air and the silence the silver clouds drag across the landscape; like a duvet muffling all sounds and weighing me down.
Days like this are meant for writing, even though my energy reserves are being drained much faster than normally. Now, I have pondered long and hard (HA!) about what to write about after my previous post, and I believe I’d like to share my thoughts on the general differences between men and women on the spectrum. Understandingly this is a difficult topic. Distinguishing men from women is, after all, not as easy as it sounds. Not only are some men born with vaginas, while some women are born with penises, creating a huge grey area in this debate, but every single person in this world is unique both physically and mentally. This makes this task increasingly tricky, but I hope that you will understand that this is all very general and primarily built on my own experiences and studies.
A great table of traits, I’ve found, is from help4aspergers.com.
This was actually one of the first list of traits I ever saw about women on the spectrum specifically, and I have found that the majority of these fit me. To point of some of the ones that don’t: I do not think of myself as being half-man, half-woman. I am a woman both when it comes to my sex and my gender identity although I rarely consider my gender at all. Also I was diagnosed late and I’ve never had any learning deficits… well… maybe when it comes to learning anything to do with my motor skills. To this day I still cannot ride a bike, swim and don’t expect me to be able to run or dance without tripping or knocking something down.
Now it is fairly common knowledge that men outnumber women when it comes to being diagnosed with ASD. Hans Asperger observed quite a few girls with autistic traits, but felt that they didn’t meet all the criteria for the disorder and they were therefore most often classified either as mild cases or something else entirely. I wish I could say that this has changed significantly over the years, but from my observation progress has been quite slow. With the majority of autistic people being male it also means that the total mass of information is based ON boys and men, resulting in many autistic girls to be overlooked or misdiagnosed.
One of the reasons behind this situation is, that girls on the spectrum often adapt by mimicking. Girls are most often, compared to boys, more cautious, so we observe, ask, learn and imitate in order to fit in. And whenever we commit a social faux pas we are more likely to react with withdrawal, apologizing, trying to appease the ones we have ‘wronged’, whereas the boys react outwards, with aggression, trying to assert his right and role in the group. Quite honestly, I understand why boys are generally spotted earlier and I do also understand why sometimes they are thought of as being more severe cases: in a group of people, who would you more easily notice; the loud, outwards-reacting, clearly displeased, odd boy, or the quiet, sad, confused but equally displeased girl? (I realize not all boys or girls on the spectrum fit this description, but again: I’m speaking in general terms.)
This reaction pattern for females on the spectrum have often led the doctors to believe that we are less autistic. But this is in my eyes a major fallacy! One should not compare women on the spectrum to our male counterparts, but rather to our neurotypical sisters.
Girls and women are by society expected to be motherly, demure, social creatures, we’re supposed to be pleasant, not too loud, not too controversial, not too eccentric and we’re not supposed to be too geeky, because what man would want us then? Acknowledging the female aspie/autie as being generally different from her male counterpart seems only natural to me. There are many prejudices against women on the spectrum (sorry, this is turning into a rant), that I have a hard time dealing with. If I dress classically feminine I am seen as being less autistic. If I dress more masculine I’m not fully accepted as a female. Many of the more typical special interests for women on the spectrum are often seen as not autistic enough (fiction, animals, drawing, painting, psychology, history, fashion, food, etc.).
Women on the spectrum are more likely to be diagnosed early on with mood disorders, while they may also have an underlying ASD. I myself have suffered from anxiety and depressions my entire life, and through most of my treatment history these were the focus points. But mood disorders might also mask the deeper reasons for one’s troubles. We treat the symptoms and not the cause.
All this because the diagnostic criteria this far have been shaped around the male aspies/auties. This is what makes it so important for women on the spectrum to speak up. We do have the same problems, we don’t have it easier and we’re not less autistic merely because we’re women.
This world needs more knowledge about us - my last two psychiatrists hardly knew anything about females with autism. This is not okay! This post doesn’t even begin to describe all the issues regarding this topic, but I’ve said enough for now.
My love goes out to all women on the spectrum - be who you are, not who society or psychiatrists expect you to be.