Saturday, September 20, 2008

Autistic Women

I read an interesting piece in the UK's Telegraph today on the topic of autistic women titled "Autistic Women: A Life More Ordinary". The author of the article, Charlotte Moore, is mother to two autistic sons and, as such, brings some autism-related life experience to bear in her brief synopsis of autistic females.

I can state with certainty that my understanding of autism - formed from the perspective of a non-autistic parent - has been enriched greatly by having met and gotten to know Bev Harp, an autistic woman and all-around great person. Likewise, I have seldom been more moved to consider my own shortfalls of understanding than I am when I spend time with Peyton Goddard. I have also had the great pleasure of getting to know Camille Clark in person.
Online, I have also benefitted from exchanging ideas with Michelle Dawson and Amanda Baggs.

I have not spent much time considering the skewed male:female ratio in terms of autism. In light of that, I found the following paragraph from the article very interesting, especially in the context of our understanding of prevalence of autism today (and the supposed 'epidemic'):
"When the first of my two autistic sons was diagnosed in 1994, someone told me that autism was more prevalent among Jews (my sons' father is partly Jewish). This notion probably arose because many mid-century psychiatrists and psychoanalysts were Jewish, so interest in and awareness of unusual mental states was higher among Jewish families, who were therefore more likely to seek consultations for their children. Similarly, Asperger believed autism to be more prevalent amongst the professional classes, failing to see that it was simply more likely that such a parent would seek his advice. We now know that autism is not related to ethnicity, income or social class. Are we about to find that it is not as strongly linked to gender as has been supposed, that there are more autistic women out there than we imagine?"
Anyway, its a well-written but brief article that I would recommend. Read it here.


Jen said...

That is a very interesting article- thanks for posting it. Two of my triplets are girls (both on the spectrum), so it's always good to see that people are paying attention to the female contingent. When they were first diagnosed I actually think that our specialists were kind of excited to have girls to work with for a change, as there just weren't that many around at that point. I've also noticed a big change in the makeup of special ed classes over the last 8 years- in their early primary years the overwhelming majority of autistic children in the special ed classes were male, and now I'd say that it's at least evenly split if not more heavily female (I'm just talking about the kids in the self-contained classes which two of my children attend who are identified as autistic).

The thing that I found most personally interesting in that article is that both of my girls have what I would consider "hyper-feminine" interests...non-stop clothes, makeup, and fashion all the way. In some ways that makes life easier for them as we no longer have to worry about them leaving the house dressed inappropriately, but in other ways it's kind of annoying as I'm a tomboy and really can think of better things to do with my time than put on makeup and try on clothes for 2 hours :-)

I've heard rumours lately that there's going to be an autistic women's group in our community soon, and one of the things that I'm very excited about is that apparently two of the women have specifically asked if there are any younger girls who might like to talk to an adult- I am thrilled that it might actually happen.

laurentius rex said...

During the recent NAS conference I had a go at Professor Michael Rutter for repeating the 4 to 1 ratio ad nauseum and insisting it was a fact because all the studies showed it.

Yeah sure they did because you weren't looking for girls to include in the studies.

Then later on, along comes SBC to round of the proceedings with the usual. Oh well I did not even bother to have a go at him this time, as he is like a stuck record, however I did suggest to him privately that he ought to self diagnose himself with OCD at the very least if not AS given the degree of his obsession in the matter.

As he says in another article, in the independant.

"Even if I wasn't being paid to do it as a job, I would still be doing this research. It's driven by curiosity and interest rather than obligation."

H'm sounds a bit like narrow and restricted interests to me :)

It is just a matter of whichever way you want to look at it.

TheGonzoGirl said...

Very interesting points, Steve.
As an Autistic woman, I've always wondered where that one in four number comes from.
In our monthly Aspie group, between 40 and 50 percent are female.
(It varies, because not everyone shows up every time)
Most of the Aspie women I know, have had real trouble getting diagnosed properly, there still is a lot of sexist stereotyping in psychiatry and women get the borderline label far too quickly.
Then there's the geek stereotype associated with AS:
My neurologist actually wondered why I wear lipstick. He probably thought: "Oh, that's not your typical geek, so she can't be an Aspie!"
Of course a lot of Aspie females don't wear make-up, but that doesn't mean one who does is not Autistic...
...I could probably write a novel about stupid stereotypes, but one example should be enough.