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The invisibility of autistic girls Why are boys more likely to be diagnosed?

The obsessive interests of girls often aren't recognised as a symptom. (Alberto Ortega/Europa Press via Getty Images)

The obsessive interests of girls often aren't recognised as a symptom. (Alberto Ortega/Europa Press via Getty Images)


August 8, 2023   6 mins

“Let’s go to page seven,” says the psychologist.

I flick through the papers on my lap. There it is, at the bottom: “Autism, without accompanying intellectual impairment and without accompanying language impairment.” I read that I fulfil all seven diagnostic criteria for what used to be known as Asperger’s Syndrome. In fact, on one of the rating scales where a score of more than 77 points supports a diagnosis, I come in at 154. I feel I’ve done well, by being such a clear-cut case.

Then, my past unfolds. It’s like watching a film with a twist at the end. The signs were there all along: literal thinking, obsessive interests, anxiety, struggles with change. I have always known that I’m autistic. And yet, I haven’t had a clue.

The assessment that led up to my diagnosis lasted for three months. The psychologist interviewed me and spoke to my close family; I did tests and filled out questionnaires. The self-report inventories were a little antiquated in their view on autism, the psychologist told me apologetically. He was right. The questions were based on stereotypical male interests, such as playing boardgames, noticing number plates on cars, or collecting information about different categories of trains.

I envisioned the person whom the questionnaire was aimed at: an anaemic male gamer who rarely leaves his apartment, collects soda cans, can solve a Rubik’s cube in under a minute and monotonously drones on and on about the Cretaceous period. I thought about male geeks in popular culture, characters in TV shows like The Big Bang Theory or Atypical.

Until the Nineties, autism was regarded as a condition mostly found in boys — simply because all the early scientific research on autism was done on boys and men. This gender imbalance meant the diagnostic tools established were skewed. Doctors such as Hans Asperger noted that the boys he examined had limited, strong interests, and came to the conclusion that this was an autistic trait. Therefore, only “boyish” special interests came to be associated with autism.

In 1992, the Swedish child psychiatrist Svenny Kopp — one of the first authors to write a scientific article arguing that there were more autistic girls than previously believed — noticed that if a girl was obsessed with, for example, My Little Pony, her male colleagues wouldn’t recognise this as an autistic special interest. Instead, the girls were given other, less specific diagnoses like Semantic Pragmatic Disorder or “learning difficulties”. Autism was only recognised in a girl if the case was very severe.

Medicine did ask itself, at the time, why there seemed to be no girls with so-called “high-functioning” autism — that is, autism without accompanying intellectual impairment. The explanation, doctors decided, was that girls must have to experience a more extensive brain injury, a more profound intellectual disability, before they could develop autism. But Svenny Kopp didn’t buy it. Being female herself was pivotal to her scepticism, she says today. Her ground-breaking thesis, “The Girl Project”, showed that not all autism looks like the kind observed in boys. She is currently conducting a follow up-study of the girls she worked with in the Nineties, who are all now around 35. Her work has received an incredible amount of attention — and offered salvation to many autistic women.

Autistic women are often good at masking their social shortcomings, because from a young age girls tend to be drilled harder in social intercourse than boys. Masking happens unconsciously, and from an early age; children with autism withdraw and make themselves invisible, as they carefully observe the play and speech of their fellows, before attempting to copy them.

When I was a child, my peers sometimes resented me without me understanding why. I realised that I must have been misunderstood somehow, but couldn’t see when or how. A fear took root in me. Without knowing it, I studied social interaction through the books, TV shows, plays and films that I devoured. I began to minimise risks in my friendships by letting others make decisions, so that no one would get annoyed. I often found myself in constellations that may have looked like a trio from the outside, but were really two best friends and one backup: me. I listened, asked questions, said yes to every suggestion, expressed almost no needs of my own, kept confidences but rarely offered any in return, and became everyone’s most amenable friend.

Girls with autism are often interpreted as “sweet”, shy and acquiescent. They don’t take up space in a group or stir up trouble. By adulthood, their masking can be so honed that they become social chameleons, who blend in seamlessly in any company. But the long-term suppression of their own true self often leads to exhaustion and poor mental health. Those who seek out an assessment almost always have a history of anxiety and depression, my psychologist tells me. If you don’t interpret reality in the same way as those around you, of course you will feel unwell. Research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry states that, in the UK, “10% of those who died by suicide had evidence of elevated autistic traits, indicating likely undiagnosed autism”.

Nevertheless, moving through the world without masking at all is near-impossible for an autist. There would be too many conflicts and misunderstandings, as neurotypical people have a hard time grasping that not everyone is like them. In search of relief, as an adolescent I spent all my time at the stable. My relationship with horses felt peaceful and undemanding compared to my relationships with other people. I couldn’t decipher the codes, couldn’t understand what was implied. It was as though something went on between others that was imperceptible to me — something subtle and ever-changing.

The more “high functioning” you are, the easier it is to study expected behaviours, mask your autism and behave on the majority’s terms — in social relationships, in the schoolyard, and on the job market. After university, I transformed my special interests into a profession and started working in radio and television. There, communication was simpler; there were rules. You wrote a script before speaking and all you had to do was read it aloud. No one was allowed to interrupt. When the green light came on in the studio, the floor was mine.

But the better you are at “acting normal”, the less seriously you will be taken when explaining your difficulties. “Intelligence can compensate for so much,” the artist Linn, who was diagnosed at age 22, told me. The way her strengths have obscured her difficulties has been a constant frustration in her life. “If I hadn’t been so smart, they might have noticed something sooner. When others perceive you as intellectually clever, they struggle to understand that you can have all these problems. It doesn’t add up that someone who is good at thinking can fail so utterly at things that are easy for others.”

After my assessment, I searched for books on autism in grown women, but couldn’t find many. Most books focused on children and adolescents, but autism is not something you grow out of. You can get better at coping, but it can’t be trained away and there is no medication. It is a life-long condition.

And so, I decided to write a book to fill the silence, The Autists: Women on the Spectrum. I interviewed autistic women in Sweden, including Linn. Their stories echoed mine: growing up feeling different without understanding why; experiencing bullying in school and constant misunderstandings in communication with others; suffering from depression and anxiety as an adult; and then finally finding peace in being given the right diagnosis.

Autism has always been present in humanity, according to neurologists such as Oliver Sacks. But throughout history, the language used to describe autistic people has varied, from “withdrawn” and “eccentric” to “odd”. The earliest descriptions of what is thought to be autism date back to the 13th century, and refer to the Italian monk Brother Juniper, one of the Grey Friars in St Francis’s following. Of course, we can never be sure about a posthumous diagnosis, but scientists have researched the lives of famous historical individuals — using source materials such as diaries, letters, testimonies from relatives and medical assessments — and tried to determine whether they might have received an autism diagnosis had they been alive today. Women often mentioned are poet Emily Dickinson, philosopher Simone Weil and author Patricia Highsmith.

But autism as a concept wasn’t born until the early 20th century — and back then it only really applied to men. To have grown up with undiagnosed autism is to have suffered difficulties that didn’t exist. I close my eyes and rewind my own tape again, seeing the clues from my childhood and teenage years and life as a young adult. What if I had known sooner? How would my life have turned out? I tell myself that the alternative is impossible: during my childhood, female autists without intellectual impairment, as a recognised category, didn’t exist. No one could have given me a diagnosis. My life thus far is not a series of years lost. But still, I mourn not being able to decipher the signs before. I repressed everything that was true in me, and kept striving towards further defeat.

My diagnosis is the best thing that has happened for my self-esteem. After the assessment, I went from failed neurotypical to regular autist. I understood who I was, and the relief was indescribable. My anxiety receded, and I lowered my dosage of antidepressants. I started to like my quirky sides. I found the strength to say no to things I had previously thought I must do. I shrunk my life, peeling away things and musts, protecting everything that made me feel good. I became proud of my difference.

It’s a new year. One day when parents are invited to join the children in class, I visit my daughter’s school. I watch the children colour in drawings of animals. When the bell rings for lunch, we walk to the canteen, where chilli fish and boiled potatoes are on the menu. We choose the table in the farthest corner. Sitting there, alone, is a girl from another class. I take a seat across from her. On her plate are three pancakes. No toppings. She looks at me.

“I get to eat this because I’m autistic,” she says, and puts a piece of pancake in her mouth.

“Me too,” I say.


Clara Törnvall is a journalist and producer. Her first book is The Autists: Women on the Spectrum.


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Ian Barton
Ian Barton
9 months ago

Recently In the U.K, many autistic girls have been sent for mutilation into the male gender before any real autism is diagnosed. I wonder if this is related….

Last edited 9 months ago by Ian Barton
R Wright
R Wright
9 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Binary thinking? Obsessive behaviours? Self-hatred? No I am sure that it is all just a coincidence.

Shah Wharton
Shah Wharton
9 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Gender Dysphoria/Incongruence. A systematic Literature Review and Meta-Analysis:
Aimilia Kallitsounaki et al. J Autism Dev Disord. 2023 Aug.

*Significant link established between ASD & GD/GI*

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3559602
3/

Yvonne Mikulencak
Yvonne Mikulencak
9 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I am 72 yrs old and I am autistic. I was a “tomboy “ when I was young but grew out of it naturally throughout the years. I am married HAPPILY to a man for 50 yrs!!!!!!!

R Wright
R Wright
9 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Binary thinking? Obsessive behaviours? Self-hatred? No I am sure that it is all just a coincidence.

Shah Wharton
Shah Wharton
9 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Gender Dysphoria/Incongruence. A systematic Literature Review and Meta-Analysis:
Aimilia Kallitsounaki et al. J Autism Dev Disord. 2023 Aug.

*Significant link established between ASD & GD/GI*

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3559602
3/

Yvonne Mikulencak
Yvonne Mikulencak
9 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I am 72 yrs old and I am autistic. I was a “tomboy “ when I was young but grew out of it naturally throughout the years. I am married HAPPILY to a man for 50 yrs!!!!!!!

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
9 months ago

Recently In the U.K, many autistic girls have been sent for mutilation into the male gender before any real autism is diagnosed. I wonder if this is related….

Last edited 9 months ago by Ian Barton
Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
9 months ago

“Why are boys more likely to be diagnosed?”
Perhaps because the girls are all being “diagnosed” as trans. And no, I’m not kidding. Many parents on PITT (a great substack) report autistic behavior from their now sexually confused children.

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
9 months ago

That makes so much sense. If autistic people need to follow rules and order and these rules include gender stereotyping and/or sexual preferences, then it would seem logical that if you are not conforming to the ‘norm’ then changing your body to fit would sound like a good idea.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
9 months ago

Because boys are far more likely to be autistic

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
9 months ago

Well it is true

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago

I think you’re right. In fact, I’ve thought that the overall male personality leans toward autism.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
9 months ago

Well it is true

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago

I think you’re right. In fact, I’ve thought that the overall male personality leans toward autism.

Yvonne Mikulencak
Yvonne Mikulencak
9 months ago

I am 72 yrs old and I am autistic. I was a “tomboy “ when I was young but grew out of it naturally throughout the years. I am married HAPPILY to a man for 50 yrs!!!!!!!

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
9 months ago

That makes so much sense. If autistic people need to follow rules and order and these rules include gender stereotyping and/or sexual preferences, then it would seem logical that if you are not conforming to the ‘norm’ then changing your body to fit would sound like a good idea.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
9 months ago

Because boys are far more likely to be autistic

Yvonne Mikulencak
Yvonne Mikulencak
9 months ago

I am 72 yrs old and I am autistic. I was a “tomboy “ when I was young but grew out of it naturally throughout the years. I am married HAPPILY to a man for 50 yrs!!!!!!!

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
9 months ago

“Why are boys more likely to be diagnosed?”
Perhaps because the girls are all being “diagnosed” as trans. And no, I’m not kidding. Many parents on PITT (a great substack) report autistic behavior from their now sexually confused children.

Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
9 months ago

i fist heard of Asperger’s syndrome 20 years ago, when my oldest son was 16. He had ticked all the boxes for autism from infancy except that he talked early and often. Fully fluent at 15 months. My only early talker of 5 and he never shut up. He was what first interested us in homeschooling, a brilliant child except on bad days when he knew nothing. And he was just like me. Suddenly the horrible experiences I had had in school made sense. And they stopped happening in high school because by that time I had learned to just shut up. Don’t correct the teachers. The French detective show Astrid, about an autistic woman who works as a crime researcher has brought me as close to tears as I get with flashbacks of her childhood which are exactly like mine. Finding out why I still have zero social skills was freeing, like being diagnosed with a hereditary neuromuscular disease explained why I could never play sports as a child. But you still have to get on with the hand you’ve been dealt.
i found myself suddenly popular with boys in college and married very young, and happily, now going on for 40 years. This business of turning autistic girls into boys is incredibly sexist and ableist, and surely there are a few more “ists” we can come up with. If you’re more comfortable around boys, as I always was, marry one. Far from needed to be shepherded into being some unnatural creation of the industrial medical complex high functioning autistic girls have a lot to offer, and there is a line of high functioning autistic guys out there looking for you.

Yvonne Mikulencak
Yvonne Mikulencak
9 months ago
Reply to  Suzanne C.

I am 72 yrs old and I am autistic. I was a “tomboy “ when I was young but grew out of it naturally throughout the years. I am married HAPPILY to a man for 50 yrs!!!!!!!

Yvonne Mikulencak
Yvonne Mikulencak
9 months ago
Reply to  Suzanne C.

I am 72 yrs old and I am autistic. I was a “tomboy “ when I was young but grew out of it naturally throughout the years. I am married HAPPILY to a man for 50 yrs!!!!!!!

Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
9 months ago

i fist heard of Asperger’s syndrome 20 years ago, when my oldest son was 16. He had ticked all the boxes for autism from infancy except that he talked early and often. Fully fluent at 15 months. My only early talker of 5 and he never shut up. He was what first interested us in homeschooling, a brilliant child except on bad days when he knew nothing. And he was just like me. Suddenly the horrible experiences I had had in school made sense. And they stopped happening in high school because by that time I had learned to just shut up. Don’t correct the teachers. The French detective show Astrid, about an autistic woman who works as a crime researcher has brought me as close to tears as I get with flashbacks of her childhood which are exactly like mine. Finding out why I still have zero social skills was freeing, like being diagnosed with a hereditary neuromuscular disease explained why I could never play sports as a child. But you still have to get on with the hand you’ve been dealt.
i found myself suddenly popular with boys in college and married very young, and happily, now going on for 40 years. This business of turning autistic girls into boys is incredibly sexist and ableist, and surely there are a few more “ists” we can come up with. If you’re more comfortable around boys, as I always was, marry one. Far from needed to be shepherded into being some unnatural creation of the industrial medical complex high functioning autistic girls have a lot to offer, and there is a line of high functioning autistic guys out there looking for you.

Andrew Buckley
Andrew Buckley
9 months ago

Lovely article Clara.
It is so difficult to be different, even when the “difference” is no threat to anyone else. Tiring is how I can best describe it.

Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Buckley

Tiring is the perfect word. As a stay at home mom I simply avoided everything and everyone and that works for me, but my son didn’t have that choice. He lived in Asia for ten years where his weirdness was attributed to being a foreigner rather than a loser.

Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Buckley

Tiring is the perfect word. As a stay at home mom I simply avoided everything and everyone and that works for me, but my son didn’t have that choice. He lived in Asia for ten years where his weirdness was attributed to being a foreigner rather than a loser.

Andrew Buckley
Andrew Buckley
9 months ago

Lovely article Clara.
It is so difficult to be different, even when the “difference” is no threat to anyone else. Tiring is how I can best describe it.

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
9 months ago

I suggest that Asperger’s is used for people who seem to be more dominated by their left-brain and Autism is kept for the diagnosis of brain damage.
The two have blurred together and yet they are obviously different (maybe with some overlap).
I find it disrespectful to sufferers and their parents when we broaden the definition of autism to include almost all of us.
It waters down the seriousness.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
9 months ago
Reply to  Michael Hanson

Absolutely. I have friends who are desperate for support with their profoundly autistic, non verbal, adult daughter. The attention seeking victims desperate for a label are taking resources from those who really need it.
No one is allowed to be eccentric anymore.

Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
9 months ago
Reply to  Michael Hanson

I absolutely agree with this. I hate using high functioning autism because it is an insensitive oxymoron but they tell us now that Aspergers’s isn’t the right term….

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
9 months ago
Reply to  Michael Hanson

Absolutely. I have friends who are desperate for support with their profoundly autistic, non verbal, adult daughter. The attention seeking victims desperate for a label are taking resources from those who really need it.
No one is allowed to be eccentric anymore.

Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
9 months ago
Reply to  Michael Hanson

I absolutely agree with this. I hate using high functioning autism because it is an insensitive oxymoron but they tell us now that Aspergers’s isn’t the right term….

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
9 months ago

I suggest that Asperger’s is used for people who seem to be more dominated by their left-brain and Autism is kept for the diagnosis of brain damage.
The two have blurred together and yet they are obviously different (maybe with some overlap).
I find it disrespectful to sufferers and their parents when we broaden the definition of autism to include almost all of us.
It waters down the seriousness.

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
9 months ago

I always wonder whether to disclose my ASD as people say, “you don’t seem autistic’ or they start talking slowly and smile obsequiously, overwhelmed by pity. However, starting a new job or dealing with sudden changes or demands can provoke a rather extreme reaction from me. I don’t believe this makes me less able to do the job or make a useful contribution to the issue; quite the reverse. Ideally society would notice the value of eccentric thinkers and include them in policy making and processes; no doubt this will be the case eventually.

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
9 months ago

I always wonder whether to disclose my ASD as people say, “you don’t seem autistic’ or they start talking slowly and smile obsequiously, overwhelmed by pity. However, starting a new job or dealing with sudden changes or demands can provoke a rather extreme reaction from me. I don’t believe this makes me less able to do the job or make a useful contribution to the issue; quite the reverse. Ideally society would notice the value of eccentric thinkers and include them in policy making and processes; no doubt this will be the case eventually.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
9 months ago

Super article, thank you.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
9 months ago

Super article, thank you.

R Wright
R Wright
9 months ago

The author is probably not autistic. Like anorexia, FtM transgenderism, ADHD and various other ills that have emerged in numbers only in the past three decades, an autism diagnosis is thrown at everyone under the sun. A century ago you might merely have been labelled eccentric, except now, armed with a badge from one of the representatives of our technocratic-managerial-bureaucratic nightmare of our modern society, you have the ultimate victimhood point. Anything is better than being a ‘neurotypical’ CIS white British woman. ‘True’ autism renders you unable to function at all.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
9 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

I had a friend who claimed all 3 of her children were ‘somewhere on the autistic spectrum’. But then nowadays we’re all ‘somewhere on the gender spectrum’. Diagnoses always give ‘relief ‘ nowadays but there’s always the placebo effect.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Yes, the placebo diagnosis. I’ve known people who felt relief after a diagnosis of something since dropped from the DSM entirely. Diagnose someone who’s troubled in some way with TISW syndrome and they’ll feel better.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Yes, the placebo diagnosis. I’ve known people who felt relief after a diagnosis of something since dropped from the DSM entirely. Diagnose someone who’s troubled in some way with TISW syndrome and they’ll feel better.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
9 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Not anything.

Geraldine Kelley
Geraldine Kelley
9 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Thank god for your comment. I was feeling a bit unkind for thinking this was a load of victimhood BS.

Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
9 months ago

i saw the article as a bit of both. I’m not sure if the author is really on the spectrum, or if it matters. I do think girls who are autistic, and it has to be a pretty small number, are being diced and sliced by the trans agenda and need to be protected. If a girl likes hanging out with boys and doing boy things she isn’t bad at being a girl, she’s actually well poised to have a functioning heterosexual relationship. Imagine.

Yvonne Mikulencak
Yvonne Mikulencak
9 months ago
Reply to  Suzanne C.

I am 72 yrs old and I am autistic. I was a “tomboy “ when I was young but grew out of it naturally throughout the years. I am married HAPPILY to a man for 50 yrs!!!!!!!

Yvonne Mikulencak
Yvonne Mikulencak
9 months ago
Reply to  Suzanne C.

I am 72 yrs old and I am autistic. I was a “tomboy “ when I was young but grew out of it naturally throughout the years. I am married HAPPILY to a man for 50 yrs!!!!!!!

Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
9 months ago

i saw the article as a bit of both. I’m not sure if the author is really on the spectrum, or if it matters. I do think girls who are autistic, and it has to be a pretty small number, are being diced and sliced by the trans agenda and need to be protected. If a girl likes hanging out with boys and doing boy things she isn’t bad at being a girl, she’s actually well poised to have a functioning heterosexual relationship. Imagine.

Mechan Barclay
Mechan Barclay
9 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

It feels almost like the author wanted to be autistic to enable her to give a judgement of her social interactions with people so that she could do things that are out of the norm with a caveat.
But nowadays, who is the norm? What does it mean to be perfectly able to deal with every social interaction. I don’t know these people, and likely never will. We all deal with a variety of difficulties at all moments. This isn’t to say that there are autistic people who have real difficulties in life (love, life, job..), but if you’re able to overcome these issues, I’m at a loss to understand why there is a need to wish away your past self. That in its self, is the true demon.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
9 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

My college roommate’s major required that she work with children with brain function disabilities, one of whom was an autistic boy age about four or five. He couldn’t (or wouldn’t) communicate, sat in his “special” spot and rocked while organizing blocks in multiple configurations over and over, couldn’t stand certain noises, and would scream when touched – even by his parents. It was awful to witness and I coudn’t help imaging how his mother and father coped.
Ms.Tornvall went to university, worked in television, and has a daughter. That autistic boy, if he’s still alive, is probably rocking in an institution somewhere.

Last edited 9 months ago by Allison Barrows
Shah Wharton
Shah Wharton
9 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

It took until mid-30s (& several admissions to A&E and on MH wards) to receive correct treatment (after recieving bipolar diagnosis) after years of incorrectly (and dangerously) recieving mania-inducing antidepressants since 17. My older brother wasn’t so lucky and ended his life 2004 age just 34yrs.

Sometimes, a diagnosis is crucial. To play down just how impactful, is dismissive of genuine suffering.

I was diagnosed with autism (then ADHD) age 51 (Spring 2023) after being on waiting lists for YEARS. The NHS do not fling these diagnoses around, asp at female adults like myself, easily or quickly.

Medical research historically uses the male as the default human. Fact! Until females have suffered unnecessarily, their differing needs don’t get a look in. There’s no reason to think there are fewer (or more, even) females with ASD (or Asperger’s, no longer the preferred term, erroneously, in my view) than males…. because neither hypothesis has been proven.

Why is researching anything from a female angle somehow considered less worthy – we make up half the global population Doing so does not demand that men’s health
(or research into it) suffer as a result.
M/Fs are different (newsflash), including in how our bodies deal with illnesses (developmental, psychological, physical).

Since my diagnoses, I was able to begin to understand why I am the way I am and how ‘hiding’ myself has effected my life and health. As a child, I learned quickly to make myself small (for safety / avoid conflict). I never fully straightened my back or said No and allowed profound isolation to steer me socially, even while to outsiders, I may have seemed to have friends (always the only other ‘weirdo’ in my school year). I learned to sacrifice my desires, my voice, my discomfort and to my ultimate detriment, as adolescence and then adulthood approached, even my safety.

Not all of my issues or difficulties were ’caused’ by ASD/Aspergers (or ADHD), of course. Although, it’s difficult to determine accurately at this early stage of research. And perhaps in a different family, or decade, or school, or socioeconomic situation, I may not have hated my differences (only the rich & the elite are ‘accepted’ as being ‘eccentric) so compulsively and agreed with my many detractors and abusers.

Researching autism in females is not a ‘labels’ thing or a ‘battle between the sexes’ thing. It’s a health thing / a continuation of the research bias thing. I’m not sure why so many here seem angry and so convinced otherwise.

R Wright
R Wright
9 months ago
Reply to  Shah Wharton

I have sympathy for your position, but it seems as far as I can tell “since my diagnoses, I was able to begin to understand why I am the way I am” is the most salient part of your post. Ultimately it boils down to a need for settled identity that I would submit is mostly experienced by adolescent girls and immature women. It is nothing to do with a battle between the sexes, and I believe most boys that are diagnosed are labelled on spurious grounds, for liking trains a bit too much, and having poor eye contact.

Given the sheer numerical explosion however there is no way it isn’t mostly down to ‘social contagion’. Autism is the new ‘dancing sickness’, a product packaged primarily for nervous mothers of boys and self-hating social media addicted girls.

You’ll have to forgive me if you find my posts distasteful and blunt, but a thousand bad apples have spoiled the well of my trust in the modern industrial-medico complex and it’s ability to diagnose anything.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
9 months ago
Reply to  Shah Wharton

What a great comment.
It sounds as if you and your family have been dealt a really crap hand and have had a really rough time.
A super succint description of the state of medical research in the twilight zone (psychological / psychiatric disorders and “womens problems” – endometriosis is one that springs to mind)
Glad to hear that you got a decent diagnosis in the end.

J Boyd
J Boyd
9 months ago
Reply to  Shah Wharton

Maybe the fact that some of us are uncomfortable about the massive proliferation of psychiatric/psychological diagnoses is because it suggests a culture that patholgises variation in human personality that society should be able to accommodate and has a detrimental effect on the way we see ourselves and each other.
And because it undermines autonomy and agency.

Yvonne Mikulencak
Yvonne Mikulencak
9 months ago
Reply to  Shah Wharton

I am 72 yrs old and I am autistic. I was a “tomboy “ when I was young but grew out of it naturally throughout the years. I am married HAPPILY to a man for 50 yrs!!!!!!!

R Wright
R Wright
9 months ago
Reply to  Shah Wharton

I have sympathy for your position, but it seems as far as I can tell “since my diagnoses, I was able to begin to understand why I am the way I am” is the most salient part of your post. Ultimately it boils down to a need for settled identity that I would submit is mostly experienced by adolescent girls and immature women. It is nothing to do with a battle between the sexes, and I believe most boys that are diagnosed are labelled on spurious grounds, for liking trains a bit too much, and having poor eye contact.

Given the sheer numerical explosion however there is no way it isn’t mostly down to ‘social contagion’. Autism is the new ‘dancing sickness’, a product packaged primarily for nervous mothers of boys and self-hating social media addicted girls.

You’ll have to forgive me if you find my posts distasteful and blunt, but a thousand bad apples have spoiled the well of my trust in the modern industrial-medico complex and it’s ability to diagnose anything.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
9 months ago
Reply to  Shah Wharton

What a great comment.
It sounds as if you and your family have been dealt a really crap hand and have had a really rough time.
A super succint description of the state of medical research in the twilight zone (psychological / psychiatric disorders and “womens problems” – endometriosis is one that springs to mind)
Glad to hear that you got a decent diagnosis in the end.

J Boyd
J Boyd
9 months ago
Reply to  Shah Wharton

Maybe the fact that some of us are uncomfortable about the massive proliferation of psychiatric/psychological diagnoses is because it suggests a culture that patholgises variation in human personality that society should be able to accommodate and has a detrimental effect on the way we see ourselves and each other.
And because it undermines autonomy and agency.

Yvonne Mikulencak
Yvonne Mikulencak
9 months ago
Reply to  Shah Wharton

I am 72 yrs old and I am autistic. I was a “tomboy “ when I was young but grew out of it naturally throughout the years. I am married HAPPILY to a man for 50 yrs!!!!!!!

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
9 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

I had a friend who claimed all 3 of her children were ‘somewhere on the autistic spectrum’. But then nowadays we’re all ‘somewhere on the gender spectrum’. Diagnoses always give ‘relief ‘ nowadays but there’s always the placebo effect.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
9 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Not anything.

Geraldine Kelley
Geraldine Kelley
9 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Thank god for your comment. I was feeling a bit unkind for thinking this was a load of victimhood BS.

Mechan Barclay
Mechan Barclay
9 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

It feels almost like the author wanted to be autistic to enable her to give a judgement of her social interactions with people so that she could do things that are out of the norm with a caveat.
But nowadays, who is the norm? What does it mean to be perfectly able to deal with every social interaction. I don’t know these people, and likely never will. We all deal with a variety of difficulties at all moments. This isn’t to say that there are autistic people who have real difficulties in life (love, life, job..), but if you’re able to overcome these issues, I’m at a loss to understand why there is a need to wish away your past self. That in its self, is the true demon.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
9 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

My college roommate’s major required that she work with children with brain function disabilities, one of whom was an autistic boy age about four or five. He couldn’t (or wouldn’t) communicate, sat in his “special” spot and rocked while organizing blocks in multiple configurations over and over, couldn’t stand certain noises, and would scream when touched – even by his parents. It was awful to witness and I coudn’t help imaging how his mother and father coped.
Ms.Tornvall went to university, worked in television, and has a daughter. That autistic boy, if he’s still alive, is probably rocking in an institution somewhere.

Last edited 9 months ago by Allison Barrows
Shah Wharton
Shah Wharton
9 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

It took until mid-30s (& several admissions to A&E and on MH wards) to receive correct treatment (after recieving bipolar diagnosis) after years of incorrectly (and dangerously) recieving mania-inducing antidepressants since 17. My older brother wasn’t so lucky and ended his life 2004 age just 34yrs.

Sometimes, a diagnosis is crucial. To play down just how impactful, is dismissive of genuine suffering.

I was diagnosed with autism (then ADHD) age 51 (Spring 2023) after being on waiting lists for YEARS. The NHS do not fling these diagnoses around, asp at female adults like myself, easily or quickly.

Medical research historically uses the male as the default human. Fact! Until females have suffered unnecessarily, their differing needs don’t get a look in. There’s no reason to think there are fewer (or more, even) females with ASD (or Asperger’s, no longer the preferred term, erroneously, in my view) than males…. because neither hypothesis has been proven.

Why is researching anything from a female angle somehow considered less worthy – we make up half the global population Doing so does not demand that men’s health
(or research into it) suffer as a result.
M/Fs are different (newsflash), including in how our bodies deal with illnesses (developmental, psychological, physical).

Since my diagnoses, I was able to begin to understand why I am the way I am and how ‘hiding’ myself has effected my life and health. As a child, I learned quickly to make myself small (for safety / avoid conflict). I never fully straightened my back or said No and allowed profound isolation to steer me socially, even while to outsiders, I may have seemed to have friends (always the only other ‘weirdo’ in my school year). I learned to sacrifice my desires, my voice, my discomfort and to my ultimate detriment, as adolescence and then adulthood approached, even my safety.

Not all of my issues or difficulties were ’caused’ by ASD/Aspergers (or ADHD), of course. Although, it’s difficult to determine accurately at this early stage of research. And perhaps in a different family, or decade, or school, or socioeconomic situation, I may not have hated my differences (only the rich & the elite are ‘accepted’ as being ‘eccentric) so compulsively and agreed with my many detractors and abusers.

Researching autism in females is not a ‘labels’ thing or a ‘battle between the sexes’ thing. It’s a health thing / a continuation of the research bias thing. I’m not sure why so many here seem angry and so convinced otherwise.

R Wright
R Wright
9 months ago

The author is probably not autistic. Like anorexia, FtM transgenderism, ADHD and various other ills that have emerged in numbers only in the past three decades, an autism diagnosis is thrown at everyone under the sun. A century ago you might merely have been labelled eccentric, except now, armed with a badge from one of the representatives of our technocratic-managerial-bureaucratic nightmare of our modern society, you have the ultimate victimhood point. Anything is better than being a ‘neurotypical’ CIS white British woman. ‘True’ autism renders you unable to function at all.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
9 months ago

In an article which proposes such a controversial theory it would have been nice if the author could have links to some of the studies/articles cited. After a bit of digging it seems that Svenny Kopp has been ploughing this furrow since before 2010 – I would suggest that if there is no more up-to-date research than this 78 year-old then there might not be much to back up her findings. The author’s own inability to find books on the subject should (as a layman) have been a red flag. She might consider her reduced use of antidepressants to have had some bearing on her mental wellbeing – ADHD in boys (a topic of interest to Svenny Kopp, though in girls of course) is notoriously highly medicated and as far as I can see does more harm than good – sedation rather than cure. The article doesn’t take into account the overmedicalisation of boys is generally to their long-term detriment. Surely blending in (chameleon-like in her phrase) is preferable to life-long drug use – which can lead to abuse. Heaven forfend that normal behaviour in girls like playing with dolls is pathologized in the way that male play is. I would say that the fact that she has got this far is a credit to her and not to downplay the difficulties she has gone through, just to say that she would not have been the lady she is today without these difficult and character forming experiences. The use of suicide as a point in her favour is sad in that it doesn’t take into account that three quarters of suicides in the UK are men and boys – if it was reversed you can imagine the attention this would garner. It has already been noted the link between transgenderism and autism (and subsequently suicide and autism). The last bit I found distasteful was the diagnosis of historical figures. Psychology is hard enough to do by working on limited evidence, diagnosing the dead would seem to me to be an impossible task – cf. the diagnosis of historical characters as bi/gay/trans. It simply doesn’t work like that. Interesting article though and I would encourage more actual research in the field.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
9 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Playing with dolls is not ‘normal’. It is brainless and creepy. I hit mine with sticks and threw them up trees. Books were what I wanted. No labels in the 60s thank goodness.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
9 months ago

Hitting dolls with sticks and throwing them up trees is what’s not normal, and very definitely creepy. Did you tear the wings off flies, too?

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
9 months ago

“Playing” can include hitting dolls with sticks and throwing them up trees. Lucky you weren’t pathologised for doing so. More power to you.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
9 months ago

Hitting dolls with sticks and throwing them up trees is what’s not normal, and very definitely creepy. Did you tear the wings off flies, too?

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
9 months ago

“Playing” can include hitting dolls with sticks and throwing them up trees. Lucky you weren’t pathologised for doing so. More power to you.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
9 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Playing with dolls is not ‘normal’. It is brainless and creepy. I hit mine with sticks and threw them up trees. Books were what I wanted. No labels in the 60s thank goodness.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
9 months ago

In an article which proposes such a controversial theory it would have been nice if the author could have links to some of the studies/articles cited. After a bit of digging it seems that Svenny Kopp has been ploughing this furrow since before 2010 – I would suggest that if there is no more up-to-date research than this 78 year-old then there might not be much to back up her findings. The author’s own inability to find books on the subject should (as a layman) have been a red flag. She might consider her reduced use of antidepressants to have had some bearing on her mental wellbeing – ADHD in boys (a topic of interest to Svenny Kopp, though in girls of course) is notoriously highly medicated and as far as I can see does more harm than good – sedation rather than cure. The article doesn’t take into account the overmedicalisation of boys is generally to their long-term detriment. Surely blending in (chameleon-like in her phrase) is preferable to life-long drug use – which can lead to abuse. Heaven forfend that normal behaviour in girls like playing with dolls is pathologized in the way that male play is. I would say that the fact that she has got this far is a credit to her and not to downplay the difficulties she has gone through, just to say that she would not have been the lady she is today without these difficult and character forming experiences. The use of suicide as a point in her favour is sad in that it doesn’t take into account that three quarters of suicides in the UK are men and boys – if it was reversed you can imagine the attention this would garner. It has already been noted the link between transgenderism and autism (and subsequently suicide and autism). The last bit I found distasteful was the diagnosis of historical figures. Psychology is hard enough to do by working on limited evidence, diagnosing the dead would seem to me to be an impossible task – cf. the diagnosis of historical characters as bi/gay/trans. It simply doesn’t work like that. Interesting article though and I would encourage more actual research in the field.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
9 months ago

I’m not sure there is any such thing as ‘high-functioning autism’. As to ‘the spectrum’ I think if you look hard enough, everyone is on the spectrum. In fact, everyone is on a hundred spectra. I’m supposed to be a high-functioning autistic based on:
-not being interested in people’s shoes.
-not enjoying pointless chit-chat.
-preferring honesty.
-having an attention span longer than a goldfish.
-preferring to communicate in words rather than ‘social cues’.
-having non-typical interests. (Can a person who’s interested in phonetics be anything but disturbed?)
-not being particularly happy.

Veronica Lowe
Veronica Lowe
9 months ago
Reply to  Ray Andrews

A child who cannot make eye contact very well, is acutely distressed by some noises or changes of routine but who can tell you, by the age of 4, what day of the week any date is within a decade, (later any date in 100 years by 8) who knows tables up to 20×20 at 6 and can draw detailed maps of where he has walked any week, but can’t make friends or join in….. That is my experience of high functioning Autism. We had no diagnosis until he was 23, but it was recognised as a disability before he was 4.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
9 months ago
Reply to  Veronica Lowe

It goes to showya that ‘the spectrum’ is a very nebulous idea. Everybody has some talents and some deficits, sometimes these are noticeable enough to merit attention. But what’s more real about the autism spectrum than the friendliness spectrum or the intelligence spectrum or the attention span spectrum? If someone has some actual disability or other, it seems to me it simply is what it is. We should beware labels that have questionable validity.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
9 months ago
Reply to  Veronica Lowe

It goes to showya that ‘the spectrum’ is a very nebulous idea. Everybody has some talents and some deficits, sometimes these are noticeable enough to merit attention. But what’s more real about the autism spectrum than the friendliness spectrum or the intelligence spectrum or the attention span spectrum? If someone has some actual disability or other, it seems to me it simply is what it is. We should beware labels that have questionable validity.

Veronica Lowe
Veronica Lowe
9 months ago
Reply to  Ray Andrews

A child who cannot make eye contact very well, is acutely distressed by some noises or changes of routine but who can tell you, by the age of 4, what day of the week any date is within a decade, (later any date in 100 years by 8) who knows tables up to 20×20 at 6 and can draw detailed maps of where he has walked any week, but can’t make friends or join in….. That is my experience of high functioning Autism. We had no diagnosis until he was 23, but it was recognised as a disability before he was 4.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
9 months ago

I’m not sure there is any such thing as ‘high-functioning autism’. As to ‘the spectrum’ I think if you look hard enough, everyone is on the spectrum. In fact, everyone is on a hundred spectra. I’m supposed to be a high-functioning autistic based on:
-not being interested in people’s shoes.
-not enjoying pointless chit-chat.
-preferring honesty.
-having an attention span longer than a goldfish.
-preferring to communicate in words rather than ‘social cues’.
-having non-typical interests. (Can a person who’s interested in phonetics be anything but disturbed?)
-not being particularly happy.

Paul Canon
Paul Canon
9 months ago

Simon Baron-Cohen at Cambridge University has gathered a lot of evidence linking autism to a hyper-masculinisation of the brain caused by exposure to high levels of testosterone in the womb. His theory therefore is that autism is an extreme form of the male brain. Could that not be a simple explanation of why autism is more prevalent in men than in women? Why should we assume that autism is equally prevalent in women and that it is simply under-diagnosed, rather than accepting that autism is more common in men?

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul Canon

That’s a good point. I’m a woman with Asperger’s (diagnosed when I was 20) and whilst I do ‘mask’ I see little reason to believe there are just as many autistic women as men. Perhaps, that’s also why masking is so prominent in Asperger and autistic girls. You do truly feel alone while growing up.

Chris Amies
Chris Amies
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul Canon

That begs the question as to whether there is such a thing as ‘hyper-masculinisation’ of the brain in the first place. I thought a lot of the excess male-diagnosed-with-autism might be down to boys with autism being socially isolated, whereas people tend not to let girls be isolated so much.

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul Canon

That’s a good point. I’m a woman with Asperger’s (diagnosed when I was 20) and whilst I do ‘mask’ I see little reason to believe there are just as many autistic women as men. Perhaps, that’s also why masking is so prominent in Asperger and autistic girls. You do truly feel alone while growing up.

Chris Amies
Chris Amies
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul Canon

That begs the question as to whether there is such a thing as ‘hyper-masculinisation’ of the brain in the first place. I thought a lot of the excess male-diagnosed-with-autism might be down to boys with autism being socially isolated, whereas people tend not to let girls be isolated so much.

Paul Canon
Paul Canon
9 months ago

Simon Baron-Cohen at Cambridge University has gathered a lot of evidence linking autism to a hyper-masculinisation of the brain caused by exposure to high levels of testosterone in the womb. His theory therefore is that autism is an extreme form of the male brain. Could that not be a simple explanation of why autism is more prevalent in men than in women? Why should we assume that autism is equally prevalent in women and that it is simply under-diagnosed, rather than accepting that autism is more common in men?

William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
9 months ago

The autism diagnostic criteria have been expanding, so it’s inevitable that more people (of either gender) would be caught in the net. I think the issue is that autism (certainly in its less debilitating forms, e.g Asperger’s syndrome) is seen as something a bit male, nerdy and geeky, and God-forbid that females be excluded from that exclusive club. I remind myself of a 50-something couple I know whose 21 year old son is autistic, but in fact autistic in the “old money” sense. They haven’t enjoyed an undisturbed night’s sleep, or a family holiday, or time away as a couple since he was a toddler. He is extremely demanding, uncommunicative, and now, worryingly, aggressive (and quite strong); they fear for the future as they age. Although they are too polite to admit it, I suspect that they are somewhat irritated by people “boasting” about their own autism diagnosis, because they’ve now taken to describing their son as “severely autistic”.

Last edited 9 months ago by William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
9 months ago

The autism diagnostic criteria have been expanding, so it’s inevitable that more people (of either gender) would be caught in the net. I think the issue is that autism (certainly in its less debilitating forms, e.g Asperger’s syndrome) is seen as something a bit male, nerdy and geeky, and God-forbid that females be excluded from that exclusive club. I remind myself of a 50-something couple I know whose 21 year old son is autistic, but in fact autistic in the “old money” sense. They haven’t enjoyed an undisturbed night’s sleep, or a family holiday, or time away as a couple since he was a toddler. He is extremely demanding, uncommunicative, and now, worryingly, aggressive (and quite strong); they fear for the future as they age. Although they are too polite to admit it, I suspect that they are somewhat irritated by people “boasting” about their own autism diagnosis, because they’ve now taken to describing their son as “severely autistic”.

Last edited 9 months ago by William Edward Henry Appleby
Bret Larson
Bret Larson
9 months ago

Its funny the difference it makes to name something.

Emily H
Emily H
9 months ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

Yes, though sometimes people are sold the wrong name, led to embrace a wrong concept. As when girls who are autistic are led to believe that what they feel should be labelled ‘gender dysphoria’, and that they should harm their healthy bodies, deny their sex, pretend they’re men.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
9 months ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

Yes, or even to name nothing. Create a semantic box and people will want to put something in it and before you know it, it looks real. Or consider ‘white fragility’: a previously unknown condition invented for political reasons and signifying nothing real. Yet, it has become real by virtue of being named.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
9 months ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

The nominal fallacy

Emily H
Emily H
9 months ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

Yes, though sometimes people are sold the wrong name, led to embrace a wrong concept. As when girls who are autistic are led to believe that what they feel should be labelled ‘gender dysphoria’, and that they should harm their healthy bodies, deny their sex, pretend they’re men.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
9 months ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

Yes, or even to name nothing. Create a semantic box and people will want to put something in it and before you know it, it looks real. Or consider ‘white fragility’: a previously unknown condition invented for political reasons and signifying nothing real. Yet, it has become real by virtue of being named.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
9 months ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

The nominal fallacy

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
9 months ago

Its funny the difference it makes to name something.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
9 months ago

Still not sure what ASD really means. Anyone who doesn’t ‘fit in’ at any point in their lives? Anyone who is not hyper-social, or has some level of introspection involving anxiety?
It can sometimes seem a bit too vague to be meaningful

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
9 months ago

Well you can always educate yourself on the subject like here :
https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
9 months ago

Yes, the article, predictably, is extremely vague and provisional .. ‘differences in the brain’, ‘we don’t yet know’, incorporation of two completely contradictory definitions — extremely verbal or entirely non-verbal, etc. It can mean anything you want it to mean basically.

Last edited 9 months ago by Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
9 months ago

Yes, the article, predictably, is extremely vague and provisional .. ‘differences in the brain’, ‘we don’t yet know’, incorporation of two completely contradictory definitions — extremely verbal or entirely non-verbal, etc. It can mean anything you want it to mean basically.

Last edited 9 months ago by Benedict Waterson
Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
9 months ago

Yup. Catch anyone on a bad day and they’re ‘on the spectrum’.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
9 months ago

Well you can always educate yourself on the subject like here :
https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
9 months ago

Yup. Catch anyone on a bad day and they’re ‘on the spectrum’.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
9 months ago

Still not sure what ASD really means. Anyone who doesn’t ‘fit in’ at any point in their lives? Anyone who is not hyper-social, or has some level of introspection involving anxiety?
It can sometimes seem a bit too vague to be meaningful

Ali Morris
Ali Morris
9 months ago

Great article. I was diagnosed at aged 55 (am 57 now) and it was like the clouds had parted for me. A lifetime of being ‘different’ in every way. Even when you tell people you are autistic they don’t understand most of it is inside your head. The confusion, anxiety, misunderstanding and hopelessness is invisible. Most people said to me well you don’t seem autistic, expecting me to behave in some kind of odd way (which actually I believe I do to the norm). Although all my family said ‘that makes sense’ or ‘about time’. Having someone say something earlier to me would have made a huge difference to the suffering I have experienced. Like many girls, I am a highly skilled professional in my field and have honed my passions into a successful career.

William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
9 months ago
Reply to  Ali Morris

How is it that there are autistic people who are highly skilled and professional in their fields, and have a successful career, but there are other autistic people who can barely communicate, have violent mood swings, etc etc, for whom a career, or for that matter a normal life, is an impossibility? It really does suggest there is something wrong with the definition of autism.
Isn’t it just OK to be a bit different? We are all individuals after all. Do you really need a label?
Perhaps the diagnostic method should involve a checklist of things that any “normal” person can effectively do, for example, hold a conversation, watch a film or read a novel and interpret the characters, comfort someone when they’re crying, hold down a job without getting fired etc etc. If none of those boxes are ticked, then hey-presto! You’re not autistic.

Last edited 9 months ago by William Edward Henry Appleby
Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
9 months ago

There is actually a lot of sound commentary on here about why Asperger’s syndrome is a better descriptor than using the word autistic. It is unfair to the many children and adults for whom anything resembling a normal life, even with limitations, is impossible. I am also seeing people who had relatively normal childhoods and work lives claiming to be on the spectrum. My childhood was hellish and at 61 I still manage to embarrass myself in those situations which I can’t avoid. My son is an educated, experienced professional with a photographic memory and has trouble with social situations at work which limit his potential, but these are nothing more than inconvenient when compared with non verbal autism.

Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
9 months ago

There is actually a lot of sound commentary on here about why Asperger’s syndrome is a better descriptor than using the word autistic. It is unfair to the many children and adults for whom anything resembling a normal life, even with limitations, is impossible. I am also seeing people who had relatively normal childhoods and work lives claiming to be on the spectrum. My childhood was hellish and at 61 I still manage to embarrass myself in those situations which I can’t avoid. My son is an educated, experienced professional with a photographic memory and has trouble with social situations at work which limit his potential, but these are nothing more than inconvenient when compared with non verbal autism.

William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
9 months ago
Reply to  Ali Morris

How is it that there are autistic people who are highly skilled and professional in their fields, and have a successful career, but there are other autistic people who can barely communicate, have violent mood swings, etc etc, for whom a career, or for that matter a normal life, is an impossibility? It really does suggest there is something wrong with the definition of autism.
Isn’t it just OK to be a bit different? We are all individuals after all. Do you really need a label?
Perhaps the diagnostic method should involve a checklist of things that any “normal” person can effectively do, for example, hold a conversation, watch a film or read a novel and interpret the characters, comfort someone when they’re crying, hold down a job without getting fired etc etc. If none of those boxes are ticked, then hey-presto! You’re not autistic.

Last edited 9 months ago by William Edward Henry Appleby
Ali Morris
Ali Morris
9 months ago

Great article. I was diagnosed at aged 55 (am 57 now) and it was like the clouds had parted for me. A lifetime of being ‘different’ in every way. Even when you tell people you are autistic they don’t understand most of it is inside your head. The confusion, anxiety, misunderstanding and hopelessness is invisible. Most people said to me well you don’t seem autistic, expecting me to behave in some kind of odd way (which actually I believe I do to the norm). Although all my family said ‘that makes sense’ or ‘about time’. Having someone say something earlier to me would have made a huge difference to the suffering I have experienced. Like many girls, I am a highly skilled professional in my field and have honed my passions into a successful career.

William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
9 months ago

It’s interesting to note that Turner’s Syndrome, which affects females exclusively, can cause those affected to have above average language skills, but impaired mathematical and spatial reasoning skills, almost like it’s the antithesis of autism. “Fortunately” this syndrome has sound diagnostic criteria: the affected have an additional X chromosome, so it’s unlikely there’s an epidemic of undiagnosed males. What’s interesting is how having an additional X (female sex chromosome) causes such clear gender-biased issues.

Last edited 9 months ago by William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
9 months ago

It’s interesting to note that Turner’s Syndrome, which affects females exclusively, can cause those affected to have above average language skills, but impaired mathematical and spatial reasoning skills, almost like it’s the antithesis of autism. “Fortunately” this syndrome has sound diagnostic criteria: the affected have an additional X chromosome, so it’s unlikely there’s an epidemic of undiagnosed males. What’s interesting is how having an additional X (female sex chromosome) causes such clear gender-biased issues.

Last edited 9 months ago by William Edward Henry Appleby
leculdesac suburbia
leculdesac suburbia
9 months ago

I’ve resisted reading this research for fear of immediately diagnosing myself, but for all the wrong reasons. If you’re exceptionally intelligent as a young girl–particularly until very recently–and come from an abusive home, you’ll probably be bullied and you’ll probably be resented by most of your classmates and have few friends, no matter how nice or invisible you try to be. And God help you if you turn out to be conventionally attractive–then you’re really misunderstood, because beautiful babes can’t be brilliant. What if you just have intense interests and high standards and really try to be nice to people but they keep resenting and misunderstanding you when you say the same thing older men say, but to applause? Isn’t that just life as a really smart woman?

I’m just concerned that “autism” is medicalizing high intelligence in women, just as they’ve been trying to apply Bipolar II to any highly intelligent person, male or female, who’s quick at making verbal connections. And if you’re familiar w/ relational frame theory, you’ll understand that all human symbolic functioning comes down to quick abilities to run out a range of framed connections. I think it’s a way for insecure psychiatrists to label what they find threatening, esp if the “patient” has the “grandiosity” to question the DSM (and who hasn’t?)

I get it if your kid is banging her head against the wall and blurts out really rude statements, but what if she’s just highly intelligent and no matter how kind or invisible she tries to be she’s targeted for bullying because really smart kids, esp girls, are “weird” and easy targets?

Sorry if I’m being unfair. I just feel I’ll open this up and find another “this will finally explain everything” diagnosis when in fact it’s about the fact that if you’re toward the top of the 3rd +SD, you’re going to rub people the wrong way as a woman unless you’re highly skilled at hiding it and come from a seriously emotionally intelligent family capable of shielding you from the worst until you’re mature enough to handle it.

Last edited 9 months ago by leculdesac suburbia
leculdesac suburbia
leculdesac suburbia
9 months ago

I’ve resisted reading this research for fear of immediately diagnosing myself, but for all the wrong reasons. If you’re exceptionally intelligent as a young girl–particularly until very recently–and come from an abusive home, you’ll probably be bullied and you’ll probably be resented by most of your classmates and have few friends, no matter how nice or invisible you try to be. And God help you if you turn out to be conventionally attractive–then you’re really misunderstood, because beautiful babes can’t be brilliant. What if you just have intense interests and high standards and really try to be nice to people but they keep resenting and misunderstanding you when you say the same thing older men say, but to applause? Isn’t that just life as a really smart woman?

I’m just concerned that “autism” is medicalizing high intelligence in women, just as they’ve been trying to apply Bipolar II to any highly intelligent person, male or female, who’s quick at making verbal connections. And if you’re familiar w/ relational frame theory, you’ll understand that all human symbolic functioning comes down to quick abilities to run out a range of framed connections. I think it’s a way for insecure psychiatrists to label what they find threatening, esp if the “patient” has the “grandiosity” to question the DSM (and who hasn’t?)

I get it if your kid is banging her head against the wall and blurts out really rude statements, but what if she’s just highly intelligent and no matter how kind or invisible she tries to be she’s targeted for bullying because really smart kids, esp girls, are “weird” and easy targets?

Sorry if I’m being unfair. I just feel I’ll open this up and find another “this will finally explain everything” diagnosis when in fact it’s about the fact that if you’re toward the top of the 3rd +SD, you’re going to rub people the wrong way as a woman unless you’re highly skilled at hiding it and come from a seriously emotionally intelligent family capable of shielding you from the worst until you’re mature enough to handle it.

Last edited 9 months ago by leculdesac suburbia
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
9 months ago

Thanks to all those commenters who have given their own lived take on this problem. It is beautifully illuminating.

It is a little strange to me why one needs a diagnosis. There is no independent test, so all you have is looking at your life situation – which you know already and which does not change with a diagnosis. Sure, if you are incapable of working or loving or interacting socially you have handicap that justifies a diagnosis. Which puts you into a category of people that deserve special consideration and by the same token cannot claim full equality with the rest of humanity. But if you can manage a more or less normal life – even if it takes a lot of masking and additional mental work and adaption – what does a diagnosis give you? Except some kind of permission to be the person you are and an excuse to demand more adaption from your surroundings – and why do you need that? Is there sometimes an element that it just helps to find an external reason to blame your problems on – whether it the right reason or not?

For myself I have sometimes suspected that I might qualify somewhere on the Aspergers spectrum – socially inept, missing cues, a feeling that what others simply know automatically I must carefully analyse my way through (and, yes, intelligent). Others have suggested it, but I have never sought a diagnosis. For one thing I have a career, a family and friends, so I can manage. For another it is unlikely to be helpful (or fair) for me to play the diagnosis card. If it really helps you, go for it. But for me, I am who I am. Why would I need to go beyond that?

Last edited 9 months ago by Rasmus Fogh
William Shaw
William Shaw
9 months ago

Yet another “male space” being invaded by females.
What goes around comes around.

William Shaw
William Shaw
9 months ago

Yet another “male space” being invaded by females.
What goes around comes around.