Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Autism and Females: "You can't be autistic because..."

Very good to see so many colleagues talking on media about autism and females.
The difficulties getting a diagnosis, in particular.  I've been glad to be a speaker at many conferences and events around gender, and often talking about autistic females.  Vital that we raise the profile of all the groups who are not yet fully visible, together.

"You can't be autistic because...."

Most of us with a later diagnosis will have heard so many variations on this.
"You can't be autistic because you're female."  But probably half of those on the autism spectrum are not male.  So many miss out on diagnosis because of the myths.

"You can't be autistic because you have friends".  Autistic people have difficulty befriending non-autistic people, and vice-versa.  We generally do not have the same difficulties befriending autistic people. 

"You can't be autistic because you dress well and wear makeup".  Goodness me, there's nothing in the diagnostic list to suggest females have to look a certain way.  Sensory needs, routine needs and difficulties with co-ordination might impact on how females are able to dress.  But every person is an individual. 

"You can't be autistic because you are married/in a long term relationship".   Quite a few are married to autistic people, and it can work wonderfully well.  It can also work with a relationship with non-autistic people, if both are aware of differences and respectful of those.  Some are in very unhappy relationships with narcissists, sociopaths and general nightmare-people, who have taken advantage of the autistic partner.  That's not a sign of successful 'non-autism'.

"You can't be autistic because you have children".  Another myth.  I know so many fantastic mums.  And dads, of course. And parents who identify as non-binary.  But as this post is about females, I'll say that there is such depth of caring, such passion for getting it right and bringing up wonderful young people.  Our own son is now an autism consultant with a degree in Psychology and Counselling.  And is autistic.  Autism was not a barrier to me as a parent.  It was an advantage.

"You can't be autistic because you can make eye contact".  I can pretend to.  Many autistic people can.  Actually looking into eyes is intensely painful.  Literally.  And exhausting.   That we force autistic children to do it, so others feel OK, is quite awful.  We need to stop

"You can't be autistic because you aren't interested in trains"

No, really, I've had this one.

Autistic women/non-binary women may indeed have female fascinations and passionate interests. So might autistic males.  It's the depth of that fascination, and the way that they collect and arrange the things, that is the giveaway.  300 books on horses?  150 handbags?  I generalise.    I'm saying that collections and intense fascinations just don't have to be about vehicles, trains , computers or stamps.  Honest they don't.

Endless myths.

I am so honoured to know so many wonderful autistic people.  As friends, as colleagues. 
The quiet ones.
The loving ones.
The caring ones
The determined ones.
The passionate ones.
The creative ones.
The extravert ones.
The ones from different cultures, backgrounds, faiths, ethnicities, social and financial circumstances.
The ones who are different ages, perhaps tackling puberty, menopause, older age.

Each made in excellent and unique ways.

Each with their own accounts of the exhaustion of trying to get a diagnosis.  Of trying to get basic support for sensory, social and routine-based needs that go with autism.  And of repeatedly being ignored, because they are 'too good' at appearing non-autistic.  At masking, disguising their autism.  Or, who have found professionals who simply weren't looking for autism, because 'it's just boys, isn't it'. No, it's not.

What is it with the myth that one can see autism just by looking?

Are autistic people supposed to dress in the international autism symbol each day?  Sort of a joke.  But sort of not. "You don't look autistic" just means, "I don't feel uncomfortable around you".  That's not a diagnostic criteria.  That's the other person's individual reaction to the word autism.  The difficulty is that those of us who 'don't look autistic' get no support.  It's as bizarre as going up to someone who is Blind and saying, "Well you don't look blind", and so refusing to help them.

We are indeed all people, all loved.  And we deserve a life that is not one long fight for basic needs and basic understanding.