I want to take a minute (or two) to talk about autism and girls.
Last night I saw a thread on Facebook about autism in girls, I’d seen several very similar posts and threads over the last few days, and prior to this I’d seen the same sort of threads every other week.
This particular thread was talking about gender and autism. This lady was new to autism and was trying to learn more about it, particularly autistic girls. She asked why they were always diagnosed late (which isn’t always true, Isla was just three when diagnosed and many girls are diagnosed at a young age).
So I was a bit surprised that 99% of the comments from mums with autistic children said that it’s because girls mask, girls are social, girls don’t have communication difficulties, girls don’t have a learning disability, girls are always missed, girls are always diagnosed in their teens or adulthood, girls hide their traits, girls don’t stim as much….. and the list goes on.
Most of them didn’t say ‘some girls’, most of them didn’t say ‘girls who have been missed’, most of them didn’t say ‘a percentage of girls’ and most of them in fact used terms like ‘all girls’, ‘girls’, ‘females’, ‘everyone knows girls are different’ and some even said things like ‘girls are higher functioning’, ‘girls don’t present like boys’ etc.
When I commented that not all girls mask a lady actually said to me ‘I’ll tell my paediatrician that he’s wrong then and the website that says the same’.
If a paediatrician thinks all girls mask I honestly despair.
This was a group of mums, trying to help another mum (which I applaud) yet equipping that mum with incorrect information.
Whilst I absolutely agree some girls can present differently to their male counterparts, can mask very well and are therefore being missed by professionals (which is a complete travesty) there are also girls who do not meet that rising gender stereotype.
There is no one size fits all with autism.
There is no girls and boys are very different with autism.
There is no boys don’t mask and girls do in autism.
Autism is a spectrum and has no gender bias.
I know girls who mask, I know girls who couldn’t if they tried and I know boys who mask and boys who couldn’t mask if they tried.
I have had loads of flack for writing this in the past but I feel it’s important that we do not assume girls and boys are different. I think it’s important that girls who mask get support and a diagnosis just as much as girls who don’t but I don’t think the media portrayal of girls is helping, it’s giving a one sided view of autism that simply isn’t true. I absolutely think it’s vital girls who have been missed are given a voice and this is fantastic but girls who can’t voice their opinions or self advocate also need that chance.
Why is it important to me? Girls masking is on the news for a reason – because those girls were missed and therefore unsupported their whole lives which is terrible and needs to be addressed. I absolutely agree that people should know about these girls and women but if people are starting to believe that this is autism for all females, where does that leave girls like our daughter? Where does that leave the girls who don’t mask and couldn’t mask if they tried? Growing up in a world that not only doesn’t understand autism but believes the way their autism displays doesn’t even exist?
People also assume when I talk about this topic and girls that can’t mask that I’m talking about girls who are exactly like our daughter Isla.
I’m not just talking about girls who have a learning disability, girls who are in special schools, girls who struggle to communicate and girls who are very obviously autistic.
I’m talking about girls with a PDA profile who avoid situations because they’re crippled by anxiety.
I’m talking about girls who stim like crazy.
I’m talking about girls who are mute when out of the family home.
I’m talking about girls who struggle to be around people.
I’m talking about girls who experience meltdowns and sensory overload.
I’m talking about everyone.
Autism isn’t a boy thing, autism isn’t a girl thing, autism isn’t gender biased, autism isn’t the same for everyone, autism isn’t one size fits all.
Autism is a spectrum and we need to open up conversations about all aspects of that if people are ever going to attempt to understand it.