This guest post is by Amy Gravino, a consultant, college coach and disability advocate. Amy was a guest on the Different is Beautiful Show which you can watch below. Interested on being a guest on our show? Tell us about your story at DifferentIsBeautifulShow@gmail.com!
Being a girl on the autism spectrum is not easy. The things we think about and have to say are almost always minimized because we are female; compound that with the social challenges of an autism spectrum disorder, and you have a minority whose voices are constantly struggling to be heard. So here are some things that girls and women with autism really want you to know:
We Are Not Boys with Autism.
Girls on the autism spectrum are under-diagnosed and mis-diagnosed because so many people think that autism looks only one way: The way that it shows up in boys. But girls learn from a young age how to cope by masking and hiding many of our symptoms with socially “appropriate” behaviors, which makes people (including mental health professionals) less inclined to believe a girl or woman when she is seeking an autism diagnosis. Believe us, believe we are here, and believe that we need help.
A Foot in Both Worlds; A Place in Neither.
The ways girls and women with autism learn to cope (mentioned above) create a problem, whereby just having those coping skills and being able to “fake it” in order to make it makes us less likely to be taken seriously, either by other people on the spectrum, or by the neurotypical world. What many of us want more than anything is simply to fit in and find people we can be ourselves around, without having to prove anything. But fear of judgment from either side makes it that much more challenging for us to find where we belong.
We Don’t Exist to Take Care of Men on the Autism Spectrum.
Too often, girls and women with autism go to support groups or social events for people on the spectrum and are immediately hit on by the men in the group. The assumption that many men make (“A woman! With woman parts! You can be my girlfriend!”) prevents women on the spectrum from being viewed and appreciated as individuals with our own lives and needs. Also, some women with autism are interested in women, not men—and some aren’t interested in either. So if you come up and want to talk to us, treat us as human beings and friends, not potential dating material.
Waiting to Speak Is Not the Same Thing as Listening.
A guy sees two girls talking. He wants to go over and tell them something, even if it can wait. But he interrupts their conversation anyway and says whatever is on his mind. This happens to girls and women both on and off the autism spectrum, and it drives us absolutely bonkers. It can be difficult enough at times for us to properly articulate what we want to say, so to be cut off in the middle of a sentence because someone else thinks what they have to say is more important is incredibly frustrating. When we are talking, don’t just stand there waiting for a chance to jump in—listen to us.
Nobody Is As Hard on Us As We Are on Ourselves.
Girls with autism are often hyperaware of ourselves and our surroundings—an awareness verging on overwhelming self-consciousness. The slightest social missteps or gaffes can be repeated in our heads on an endless loop for days, weeks, even years afterward. Because so much is expected of us in society—that we should be polite, well-groomed, able to bond emotionally, and natural ‘peacekeepers’—we end up expecting so much of ourselves, and failure to live up to that is devastating to our sense of self-worth. Sometimes we need reassurance that we are not abject disappointments and still good people at heart, until that outside voice gradually becomes our own.