AUTISTIC GIRLS AND WOMEN
Autistic girls and women should be able to live happy, safe, healthy, long lives, should be able to enjoy an appropriate education and be able to access health services. They should feel able to be themselves, should be appreciated and understood, and accepted as their authentic selves.
Autistic girls and women are under-diagnosed, many are misdiagnosed, and some are reaching crisis point before a diagnosis of autism is made. Some women are late diagnosed having lived their lives without knowing they were autistic. This has caused confusion for some, and for others, distress, as recognition and support could have made life easier. Gender bias, diagnostic tools used, misperceptions, and stereotypes of autistic people are some of the reasons why autistic girls and women are being disadvantaged. Lack of information and specialist training means that it can be difficult for some parents, as well as professionals working in schools, health, or social care to know what to ‘look for’. You can find out more about what autism is here.
All autistic children are individuals, so it would be misleading to suggest that all autistic girls are alike. This may lead to further stereotyping. That said, some people have found that having a checklist, such as Samantha Craft’s, has helped them to recognise themselves as being autistic. Either way, every autistic person is unique, regardless of their gender and should be respected as an individual.
What are the issues for autistic girls and women?
Autism research and data in relation to health, education and employment highlight the many inequalities that autistic girls and women are experiencing across the lifespan.
In education, many schools are working extremely hard to ensure that autistic girls are included rather than excluded, but many girls are unable to cope in the education system because they are having to adapt themselves, rather than others to them, which can lead to mental and physical health issues.
Those working in schools deserve specialist training to enable them to do their jobs, and parents, and carers (and siblings) need to be able to access the right support. Autistic children too, can benefit from opportunities to work with, or become aware of, autistic people so they can understand themselves and develop a positive self-identity. There is sometimes the perception that because an autistic girl is in a mainstream school that she will be like her non-autistic peers. However, autistic children think, communicate, and experience the world differently so will need others to adapt their expectations, their approaches, the way they communicate, and possibly the environment so that the child is not made to adapt as this causes harm.
My article for ‘The Chartered College’ explains more. Autistic girls should have equal access to an appropriate education and should not be under-estimated. You may find that they find easy things difficult and difficult things easy. They may have strengths or be particularly skilled in an area. They may take longer to achieve certain things but may have an ability to learn other things much more quickly than their non-autistic peers.
Every autistic girl should be valued as she already is without having to change herself.