I saw this online article today on my Twitter feed: 7 Celebrities with Autism.
What drew my attention first was the sheer number of women who made that list…five out of the seven are women!
Yet it is still a prevalent myth that autism is a ‘boy thing.’ Statistics, of course, have varied over the years. It was once assumed that autism was eight to ten times more common in boys than girls. Currently, those figures are between four and four and half times more common. Asperger’s (now called high-functioning autism like PanKwake) expert, Dr. Tony Attwood believes it to be as low as three. Personally…I do not think there is any difference what so ever. That’s right, I said it, I think just as many girls have autism as boys.
So why those statistics you ask? Because of two things:
1) Generally speaking science has always agreed that girls develop socially more quickly and easily than boys. Dr. Attwood puts this another way…boys with autism just make more noise about it, act out more. It is a matter of the squeaky wheel getting the grease.
I would call this the ‘good girl’ principles. Girls are acculturated and perhaps genetically/physiological inclined to be less ‘trouble’…quieter…’good girls.’ Not that PanKwake fits that mould mind you…she gives ‘em hell with the best of the boys.
But when she was in school that need for approval…to be like the other kids…kept her ‘flying’ under the radar. She like many girls on the spectrum learned to mimic the behaviors that got her approval. In fact, if you looked at her school reports you might call us a liar or over-anxious parents.
According to those reports, she was only behind in a couple of areas. But the truth was that she had attached herself to a very intelligent girl with care-giving tendencies. PanKwake’s inexperienced teacher failed to notice that this girl was doing most of her work for her…and that even when she was not PanKwake merely copied her…her worksheets and her behaviors…for as long as she could. School only had problem with her at the end of the day when she was so tired she could not longer keep up that coping mechanism.
Dr. Attwood calls this the Cinderella effect. Girls on the high-functioning end of the autistic spectrum dress themselves up…copy other people…put on masks…play a role…however you want to describe it. Until the clock chimes midnight…until they become so overstimulated, so exhausted that they can no longer keep up the charade. And their gown turn back into rags. Their coach becomes a pumpkin. And they lose their glass slipper. That brings us to the second reason…
2) Because of that ‘myth’ that autism is a ‘boy thing,’ even when the ‘experts’ do see girls on the autistic spectrum they are all too often misdiagnosed. The experts cannot see the tree for the forest.
This happened to PanKwake too. It took us two years to get her diagnosed. After we took her out of school, the sad truth is that I doubt we would have ever gotten the diagnosis if we had left her in there with the blame games that the school played with us and others…she needs more discipline at home, she’s not getting enough sleep, it is just your separation. Anything except admit that there was a problem that they needed to address.
We went through…ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)…Sensory Processing Disorder…Global Developmental Delay…and I might have forgotten one or two. But in the end, it was so obvious that even they could not deny it…PanKwake only made it a third of the way through the ADOS (one of the diagnostic tests for Autistic Spectrum Disorder). She crawled under the table and curled into a fetal ball. After than they made the diagnosis…without further tests or evaluations.
If the ‘experts’ could/would take off their rose colored glasses that autism is a ‘boy thing,’ I believe they would see…there are just as many girls in pink on that spectrum as there are boys.
But one thing that this list and the Cinderella effect do highlight is that for females on the high-functioning end of the spectrum the prognosis may actually be brighter…they may be able to train themselves to be that ‘fairy princess’ at the ball for longer and longer. They may even be able to ‘fool’ the world into thinking they are ‘normal.’ But the thing is that clock always strikes midnight sometime…so we need greater understanding and awareness of how ASD affects girls.