Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Autistic Women Face Unique Issues

I am an autistic adult woman, and my personal experience shows that autistic women face different challenges than autistic men.  First of all, I was left undiagnosed until my mid-30’s because my symptoms presented themselves differently than those of autistic men.   My special interest was not trains or insects but rather history and international relations.  In addition, I did not exhibit many of the behavioral issues that typically lead to a diagnosis. 

I was self-diagnosed at the age of 35.  A year later, at the age of 36, I requested and received an official diagnosis from a prominent female psychiatrist who specializes in autism.  The system would never have diagnosed me on its own if I had not already figured out my autism through independent research.  In addition, my female psychiatrist may have been more sensitive to the subtle presentation of my autistic symptoms than a male psychiatrist.

Autistic women are a small minority within a minority.   Autism is a predominantly male condition, with a 4:1 male to female ratio of autistic people.  In addition, Asperger’s Syndrome has a 10:1 male to female ratio.  As a result, the unique issues and challenges that autistic women face are frequently understudied and overlooked because we are a marginalized minority within a minority.  I think the problem is we are more often overlooked than subjected to explicit discrimination within the autism world.  Thus, the solution calls for more autistic women to speak out individually and collectively about our unique issues in order to raise awareness of our differences in the autism community.

In addition, autistic women are treated more harshly for our social deficits than autistic men.  Women in general are held to a much higher standard of social competence than men.  As a result, women are punished much more severely for a lack of social competence than men. Women like me who are not skilled in mathematics and the sciences pay a particularly high price for our autism.  In my case, employers systematically refused to hire me in the business and accounting worlds for 17 years as a result of my undiagnosed autism. The realization that I was subjected to harsh discrimination in the mainstream workplace for being an autistic female is painful but necessary to my healing process.

I have interacted and shared experiences on Facebook with many other autistic women.  This interaction has given me a feeling of shared community and identity which helps me to put my experience into a larger context.  I am glad to have found the Autism Women’s Network and its group of highly accomplished autistic women.  I look forward to further interaction with the Autism Women’s Network. 

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