(Apologies in advance for talking in gender binary terms. All of the information here is from studies on cis women on the spectrum. When I say “women” I’m including trans women (because obviously) but I don’t go specifically into trans experiences because how autism intersects with trans and nb experiences is a post all its own.)
So, there’s a problem with people assuming that all Autistic people are men.
It’s generally thought of as a disorder that men have.
This could be because the number of men and boys diagnosed is much higher than the number of girls and women.
But does that mean that there are actually more men with ASDs than women?
Well, a lot of research suggests not.
It seems as if women and girls are being under and misdiagnosed.
For a while, autism was even thought of as having an “extreme male brain”. Which is ridiculous and makes me want to bang my head on my desk.
So, what’s going on?
Well, there are two reasons why girls and women are often misdiagnosed.
1) Atypical Traits
Here is a list of atypical autistic traits.
– Imitating social skills.
– Participating in social play, but being led by their peers.
– Has just one close friend, instead of many.
– Misunderstanding social hierarchies, leading to trouble with teachers.
– Having vivid imaginary worlds, often with imaginary friends, and escaping into fiction.
– Non-stereotypical (including feminine) special interests.
These traits aren’t included in many of the diagnostic criteria used by doctors, or many of the ones you might find in your research.
Any Autistic person may have any of these traits, but the ratio of these traits to the typical ones tends to be more heavily weighted towards the atypical traits in women than in men.
2) Gender Stereotypes
Sometimes gender stereotypes mean that the same behaviour in boys and girls isn’t treated the same.
If a boy is quiet, it’s considered more unusual than if a girl is, because girls are socialised to be quiet anyway, so it’s only considered a red flag for the boy.
If a boy spins, it’s a red flag. If a girl does it, it’s cute.
If a boy gets obsessed with trains or comic books (stereotypically masculine interests) it’s a red flag. If a girl is obsessed with make-up or celebrities (stereotypically feminine interests), it just feeds into the vapid young girl stereotype.
This can lead to traits not being picked up on.
Both of these factors, as well as the perception that only men can have autism (which has stemmed from these factors chicken-and-egg style), mean that women and girls are either not diagnosed at all, or misdiagnosed with personality disorders.
So, am I saying that writing a female autistic character would be unrealistic? No. Of course not. In fact, I want more of them.
But there are other things to take into account, which are unique to the experiences of autistic women.
Girls with autism also experience unique difficulties such as the double-glass ceiling effect, where the glass ceiling women normally face in the workplace is made even more impenetrable by the fact that autistic women may struggle with the social minefield of being a woman in a professional environment (for example, being perceived as too bossy, or emasculating male co-workers by being unapologetically good at your job).
There is also the issue of performing gender. This affects all genders, but it’s different for all of them. There’s an expectation on women to be feminine and “pretty” at all times. A large number of disabilities, including autism, can make this performance of gender more difficult.
Touch sensitivities can make wearing make-up difficult, which is a *serious* problem when many jobs have make-up as part of their dress code and you can be fired for not wearing it.
It can also make shorter hair more preferable, and most “feminine” shorter hair-dos require more effort, which might be impossible for some of us.
Wearing feminine clothing can be difficult.
Women are expected to be social and amicable, no matter what. They’re expected to smile at the right times and if a social interaction fails, it is often considered their fault for not accurately anticipating the social needs of the other person they were interacting with.
These are all things to take into account with your female autistic characters.
Originally posted to myautisticpov.com on 12/8/15