The Neurodiversity of Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Females

behindmaskfrontcover

In working with females (and males) on the Spectrum for approximately 20 years, I have learned a lot from my clients. When I first started out as a psychologist, I was seeing female on the Spectrum; they just were not called or labeled that back then. In working with hundreds of females, it is safe to say that there is much neurodiversity within this group. This is extremely important to talk about because these are their narratives.

By this, I mean that there exist varying presentations of girls and women on the Spectrum. Some are easier to diagnose than others. This is due to temperament, personality type, the severity or mildness of the person’s specific Autistic traits, how many traits they have, gender differences, how much the traits impact on their ability to function, other conditions or disorders and much more.

Due to a variety of lagging skills and/or differences, many females with Autism do not get along with each other, yet many do, just like neurotypical people. Many females with mild symptoms are unable to get a diagnosis, even though their traits and exhaustion impact them on a cyclical basis. Those with the subtle traits usually never receive a diagnosis.

Now that I have worked with thousands of women, they have taught and shown me through their narratives, just how different they are from each other. It is important to discuss this issue so that no more females are left behind.

Stereotypes exist due to the history of Autism and describing boys rather than girls certainly comes into play. Other stereotypes include cultural perceptions and the social focus of culturally “female” interests. So, assessments based on males and cultural perceptions and biases are certainly factors. In my work, I have seen the stereotype of the “Tomboy” play a part in other females with a different presentation not receive a referral for an assessment or a diagnosis.

The use of a social mask, compensatory mechanisms, level of intelligence (for example, being 2e), being able to get by in life day to day and then have cyclical breakdowns, and the subtle differences all contribute to a delay in diagnosis or a misdiagnosis. These differences mixed in with genetics, temperament, personality, co-existing conditions, family environment and upbringing all impact and affect how Autism presents in a female (and male).

Subtypes or presentations are extremely important to understand if one is to be trained appropriately. It is imperative to understand how many different ways a female on the Spectrum can present to a clinician. A diagnosis is critical, not only for self-understanding; but for support, services, and academic accommodations. I am talking about how girls and women have presented themselves in my clinic over 20 years, from a variety of countries and cultures. This blog is but a small part of my book entitled, “Behind The Mask” due 2017.

There are a few ways that females on the Spectrum adopt a role. In particular, if they really want to fit in and conform with society. There exist some common types or sub-types of women on the Autism Spectrum. The reason this is important is so that, as I said before, no females are left behind, and that professionals are trained in the various presentations so that they do not miss a female and also to educate the wider population about the neurodiversity of neurodiversity itself! So, let’s discuss just a few presentations:

The Tomboy is usually indifferent to gender, preferring to have boys for friends and dress in an androgynous way or dress in boys clothes. She finds it much easier to talk to boys (or men). However, some individuals have gender dysphoria and this is not to be taken lightly.

The Academic superstar uses her intelligence to achieve degrees, awards, honors and more. She has an intelligence above 130, qualifying for MENSA, and has used her intelligence to get through social situations. The higher the giftedness, the more different the presentation may appear.

The Passive female is a people pleaser. She is shy, quiet, cooperative, rarely asks for help and compliant, too compliant, and blends into the wall (in the classroom or at school). She rarely stands up to bullies and is often taken advantage of.

The Aggressive female has often had a history of misunderstanding and misinterpretations, both ways; on her part and on others parts. She often misinterprets others, burns bridges, is impulsive and is the type most often associated with or been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD traits.

The Scientific female may have a special interest in physics and/or Quantum Physics, mathematics, chemistry, animal sciences, biology or space, programming, just to name a few. Often, this type of woman is quite focused on their topic of interest and reaching high levels of distinction (a Masters or PhD).

The Style Icon is aware, even overly aware of style and fashion. She may work in fashion design, be an actor or a supermodel. She has got the outfits, makeup, hairstyles and appearance perfect. Her appearance tends to intimidate males and females, who are threatened by her appearance, presence or knowledge of the fashion and stylist world. She grasps small talk, making her appear to be neurotypical and allowing her to cope in social situations and fit in with her peers. Even if her appearance is eccentric, she gets away with it due to her other talents; whether they be a singer, a costume designer, an actor or DJ.

SamTomlin

The Housewife or Cook loves to entertain and is very good at it. She is whom people want to hire for their home. She loves to have people over, but remains the ultimate host, so as not to have to socialise with others. 

The Artist gets away with being different or eccentric because society expects them to be that way, so in this way, they often remain undiagnosed until they fall off the rails. they may be the more eccentric painters, writers, actors, supermodels, singers, and band members.

The Justice Warrior is obsessed with justice, fairness, and right and wrong. These are admirable traits, but not when it turns into obsession, misguidedness or inappropriate recruiting of members. Some women (and men) are ‘one woman’ groups because others do not want to join their cause due to the social way they attempt to get others to join their cause. These people end up starting their cause over and over again. It is true (although some may not like to admit it) that some women (or men or neurotypicals) have a “misguided sense of social justice”, going too far or the wrong way of going about their crusade. There is a socially appropriate way to get people to join your cause. I have met clients (both neurodiverse and neurotypical) who have gotten into trouble with the law or are in jail because of their enlarged justice gland, lack of social context and impulsivity.

In summary, this is just a brief look at how girls and women experience Autism and the variety that exists in presentation. There are other presentations that will be discussed in my book. Girls and women vary differently from each other and also differ in their ability of lack of ability to use compensatory mechanism and/or coping mechanisms. They also vary in intelligence levels. Those who are both Autistic and Gifted have a different presentation. However; they all share the same core challenges (from mild to severe) and some remarkable strengths or gifts.

This blog is written to address the neurodiversity with a large group of females and has nothing to do with sexism or ableism, nor that neurotypicals cannot have the same careers. Most importantly, it is imperative that we understand the differences in neurodiverse females, the different ways they cope or not cope, and the different ways they present.

Within the Neurodiverse population, there is no particular way to be a girl or a woman. Many of my clients have all kinds of preferences and interests, including my Lego pens sets. Many of my clients have a wide and varied style of clothing, from fashion to boys clothes to Victorian clothing to gender-neutral clothing to completely loving being in a princess Tulle dress or an Elf costume. Some of my clients wear “boy” clothing and “girl clothing”. Some like cargo pants, some like dresses and/or corsets, some like dressing up in their favorite character, some love femininity and some do not and many like books, stationery, dolls, and theater.

Finally, the purpose of writing about presentations is to leave no female out; to never exclude not even one female. We understand the neurotypical world (to the degree that we do), but we are only on the cusp of learning about the neurodiverse female world and what this group are truly capable of, when given the right support. This is about understanding females on the Spectrum and then designing appropriate interventions according to their presentation. For example, the passive presentation will need assertiveness training whereas a different social type will need a different intervention. It would be unfruitful to put all females in the same social skills or intervention group.

Whilst these girls and women are different, they all share the same common core characteristics, that of social, emotional, cognitive, sensory, intelligence differences, in addition to other co-existing disorders or conditions. This makes for complex presentations. By no means can one type be put in a box. A female can be 2 or 3 types or morph into all types throughout their life-time.

These are just some of the various ways that Autism presents, how some females may present and how they may cope with having a different brain. Autism influences many factors and all types and interests are just as important as each other. We need as many different brains and as many different neurodiverse females as possible. We also need to know the differences in presentation, so that we can now design and implement the right support and intervention for the right girl or woman.

Neurodiverse girls and women have much to offer, regardless of neurotype, interests, dress, differences and/or similarities. There are no stereotypes, just a variety of presentations and profiles, all valid and all very special.

#nomoreemalesleftbehind #beyourownsuperhero #aspiengirl #aspienwoman #aspienpowers #behindthemask

Behind the Mask 3D

Copyright 2017 Tania A. Marshall http://www.aspiengirl.com http://www.taniamarshall.com

No part of this may be used, reproduced, borrowed or copied. This is an excerpt from Behind The Mask

Autism Interview Series: The United States of Autism Movie

BLtZkTvCQAAvytK1

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing an amazing man who travelled all over the United States of America, to provide awareness, advocacy and education about Autism Spectrum Conditions. His efforts and his movie provide a poignant movie about how Autism affects families across America. Please meet Richard Everts.

Tania: Congratulation on a fabulous movie! The United States of Autism is a movie that spans 11,000 miles, 5 first languages (English, Arabic, Spanish, Korean, and Chinese) and 20 families. Could you please tell us how this movie started and it’s evolution to now (where is being shown in movie theatres all over the United States of America)? As the Director of the movie, how did you become involved in this amazing project?

Rich: My son is on the ASD spectrum, and so I have a first-hand look into the spectrum with all its joys and challenges. For the film, my crew and I travelled 11,000 miles around America in 40 days interviewing families and individuals affected by autism. We captured about 100 hours of footage, and broke that down over the course of 20+ revisions and 2 years into the finished 90 minute product you’ll be able to see soon. Today, it’s taken a life of its own. We thought we’d do a small 40-city run in the US and that would be it. Now, we’re scheduled for almost 100 screenings, and requests are coming in from the UK, Canada, Australia, South Korea, and more. We’re beginning an Oscar qualification run this summer and hope that we can qualify to be in LA for the 2014 Academy Awards.

Tania: How did the movie land the Pepsi Refresh Project?

Rich: My wife and I started a Foundation in 2005 that supports families and individuals affected by autism. At the end of 2009, we began to look for opportunities to expand the reach of organization on a national level, and thought creating a film might facilitate that process. So, we entered our idea into the Pepsi Refresh Project contest in February of 2010, the first month voting would be allowed. The top 10 ideas in each category would receive funding, and our first month we failed in the last week by dropping to number 12 from 8. Luckily, that meant we qualified to re-enter automatically next month, and we made sure to qualify in March of 2010. After 59 straight days of a massive social media campaign, we placed 8th out of 10, and the rest is history.
676889_640

Tania: Please tell us about Tommy and the Tommy Foundation? How did the Foundation get started and/or become involved in the movie?

Rich: Tommy is now 14 years old and the inspiration for the Tommy Foundation. He’s on the more severe end of the autism spectrum, yet he still will sit through the entire movie whenever we play it! While most of our mission at the Tommy Foundation includes activities and events for families and individuals, we do awareness projects from time to time and this was a great way to help with the overall autism movement.

Tania: How did “The Refresher”, at 3 years old, get involved in helping you promote the movie?

Rich: He’s one of the children of a local family in the film, and he was excited to play a part in helping make things happen. We had a whole green screen setup at our home, and filmed 2 videos with him in it. I would say that he was one of the great inspirations for the contest, and as a non-union actor he was worth every penny.

maxresdefault

Tania: How many families did you interview and what did you learn from them?

Rich: We interviewed 21 families and individuals affected by autism, and we learned a ton from each of them. One of the challenges with the film was of course reducing hours spent with every family to 3 minutes of footage; so unfortunately, we lose something in the translation to the screen. However, each family or individual presented a unique lesson to me as I travelled, and I’m thankful for that experience.

Tania: What is the message of the movie?

Rich: One of the great things about the film is how we incorporated the American experience into the story. We have a wide variety of religions, ethnicities, races, socio-economic statuses, and more in the film and autism reflects itself in those threads of society similarly. While part of the message is a unifying one for the autism movement, a part of it is a unifying message for the US and world as well.

Tania: What kind of response and feedback are you getting from organizations and people who have seen the movie?

Rich: The feedback has been astounding, even to us who produced it. We’ve had so many tears, laughs, and stories it would be impossible to put them all down. There are some controversial things in the film of course, yet without a doubt we’ve made huge impact wherever we’ve gone, especially as we’ve donated 25% of net ticket sales to a local organization/family/individual wherever we’ve had a showing. Change happens at the local level, and we’re enabling people to make a difference in their communities.

Tania: Where can people find out more information about the movie (website?; YouTube?; Facebook? ; Other?)

Rich: The best way to follow the film is at http://www.usofautism.com/, or our twitter @usofautism. We’re also on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-United-States-of-Autism/225733958739

The official page to read more about the film and it’s availability is here: http://www.janson.com/rights/2013/03/06/the-united-states-of-autism/

Tania: Do you plan to follow the families into the future? Do you have any further plans, possibly a second movie?

Rich: This first movie was incredibly exhausting to put together on such a small budget having put in over 4000 hours just myself, so I’m ready for a little break. However, I would say that perhaps in 10 years I’d like to maybe do a small 30 minute follow-up with each family for posterity’s sake. An “Autism Around the World” film would be great to put together as well, and we could make an incredible movie out of it. I think I’d need more than $50k to make that happen.

Tania: When might we be able to view The United States of Autism movie here in Australia, or in other countries?

Rich: We’re working on it. We’re a small operation, so converting everything to PAL can take a while. If anyone wants to send some good vibes and a few coins our way to help speed up the process, I won’t turn them away! I expect a Blu-Ray/DVD release in Fall of 2013, and hopefully can arrange a movie run Down Under in Australia this summer.
Tania: Thank-you Rich for allowing me to interview you about your fabulous movie. We are looking forward to future Australian screenings.
Rich: Thank-you Tania for the interview and your support. I will keep in touch with you about future screenings, further movies and the families.

The official page to read more about the film and it’s availability is here: http://www.janson.com/rights/2013/03/06/the-united-states-of-autism/

photo-main

Tania Marshall©. 2013. All rights reserved. Autism Interviw Series. Duplication in whole or part is explicitly forbidden. Thank you.