Credit: Rosanna Rosetti

There is no one way to be autistic, just as there is no one way to be a woman

4 mins read

Generally it is more common for boys and men to be diagnosed with autism.

Various studies, together with anecdotal evidence, suggest that the the most-up-to-date estimate ratio of autistic males to females is 3:1, but there is a concern that women and girls are better at masking attributes for which autism could potentially not be picked up.

This leads to a large number of women and girls with autism feeling misunderstood without the needed support.

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There are many reasons why girls and women with autism are falling through the cracks. One is the ‘female autism phenotype’. This means some autistic females have characteristics which don’t fit with the profile usually associated with men and boys.

Additionally a range of biological factors like genetics and chromosomes mean autism is more commonly diagnosed in boys. In turn, autism assessment tools are usually based on male characteristics, leading to the under-diagnosis in females. This calls for change.

Union President and co-founder of DSAS Chloe Whyte spoke to Brig about her experiences with autism from childhood to thriving in an academic and social university setting.

“I was diagnosed really early in life – I was a classic case of the stereotypical ‘boy autism’; academically intelligent and utterly socially unintelligent, so I was pretty hard to miss by doctors – and while this meant that I had the academic support in place for starting University, I think what I really struggled with was socialising and making friends when I moved onto campus.

“I also have a physical disability, so this prevented me from attending a lot of lectures and classes in-person. I stayed in my room, and studied from home. For autistic girls in particular, I think people underestimate how much we can struggle with the idea of fitting in.

“How much we can stress over just getting people to like us, even as a grown adult! And so, because I didn’t really engage with classes or societies, I reached the end of First Year and had convinced myself that I’d already lost my chance at having friends in University.

“Pretty crazy how quickly your thoughts can spiral like that, right? What really helped me was being able to dip my toe into the things I’m passionate about. I like politics, so I helped campaign in the 2019 Student Union elections. I like acting, so I helped direct a film around autism awareness – which is how I met Sonny!

“From there, everything slid into place. I guess what I’d like to say to any autistic girls reading this, is that all it takes is building upon that first step. There’s something for everybody at Stirling, so don’t feel defeated if the traditional route of joining a sports club or study group hasn’t worked for you! As for everybody else…

There is no one way to be autistic, just as there is no one way to be a woman. If you’d like to help support an autistic woman you know, the best first step is talking to her. You may find yourself with a loyal, caring, sometimes-too-honest friend for life!”

Film Media and Journalism student at the University of Stirling. Film and comment editor at Brig Newspaper. Edinburgh / Stirling

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