Imagine this: you are blindfolded and told to walk on a tightrope. Yes, it is difficult. But, there are also people trying to advise you on how to continue walking.
They claim that the real obstacle to your success is because you’re wearing the wrong shoes, or you’re just unfocused- not because you’re blindfolded.
In a sense, this is the case of many women throughout the world, who struggle long before they are diagnosed as autistic. Many women don’t seek a diagnosis at all, or are told that they have completely different personality disorders or mental illnesses. Misdiagnosis, and lack of any diagnosis, of women with autism is common due to two factors: gender stereotypes and unintended discrimination in research studies.
In the early 2000’s, one of Britain’s most renowned Autism experts, Simon Baron-Cohen, published the Extreme Male Brain Theory. The theory generalized that because females tend to exhibit more empathy towards others, autism (which can cause less empathetic tendencies) can be considered an inherently male disorder.
The assumption that autism affects mainly males has led many women to deny their own identities. Many women mask their own symptoms and mimic what are considered socially acceptable behaviors and mentalities.
As a repercussion of the struggle to know what’s “wrong” with themselves, women with autism are more likely to suffer from additional disorders and mental illnesses. In fact, 20-30% of those with anorexia suffer from autism as well. They may not be aware that their perfectionist traits can be symptoms of autism.
Alarmingly, the National Autism Society’s Lorna Wing Centre for Autism director, Dr. Judith Gould, says she sees women over twenty who have never received a diagnosis. Coincidentally, the majority of those women have been in abusive relationships.
The unintentional discrimination towards women continues by means of research studies.
Carol Povey, Director of the NAS’s Centre for Autism explains, “Past research into autism has concentrated overwhelmingly on males, meaning that the way we understand the condition, culturally and clinically, tends to be based on the experiences and behavior of men and boys,” she says.
Hidden behind the statistic that there is one woman with autism for every 4 males with autism exists a large group of women who are simply being denied their identities due the misunderstanding and ignorance of autism spectrum disorder. These women can be provided better treatments and coping mechanisms once their symptoms are recognized. In the long run, they pay monetary, physical, and emotional costs in their search for peace.
Recently, movements for establishing a means to understand women with autism have been picking up speed. Autism in Pink, for example, is a program funded by the EU that links four European autism to research women, and to provide them with focus groups and workshops.
There is still so much more that the world can do to provide better support for females with autism, and in the coming years, Already, things are looking up: Director Carol Povey reports that the Lorna Wing Center has seen an increase in women seeking diagnosis in recent years—a promising signal of change.
So now, many women women can untie their blindfolds. They can finally accept themselves. They can be understood by others. And they can continue doing great things, with the knowledge that they are who they truly are. If you want to learn more about women with autism, you can watch the following documentary from the NAS on Autism in Pink:
Written by Samantha Mallari