People are becoming more knowledgeable about the fact that autism can affect everybody, whether male or female. A `female profile` is being developed, and many more woman are being diagnosed. This is very positive, and will undoubtedly help a lot of people. However, many people still have the misplaced belief that autism primarily affects males – that is to say, it is much rarer for females to have autism than males. Whereas most people in the autism community know that it is simply a case of more males being diagnosed because they fit the classic profile. The average person in the street doesn’t know this as they are not up to date on matters in the autism community – and there is no reason they should be – but this still leads to an unfortunate misconception that can be problematic for many autistic women (and males who don’t meet the typical male diagnostic criteria.)
If an woman, who fits the `female profile` of autism, is trying to get by in the world, it can often be harder for her than even her male counter-part. People kind of grasp what autism is in males, but they find it very hard to translate that on to females. This misconception is probably most dangerous when it is held by professionals as it means that a lot of women not only don’t get diagnosed, but are told that they don’t meet any of the criteria for autism. This can lead them on a spiral of anxiety, depression and panic, which can ultimately result in an Autistic Crash* where they are simply unable to cope with the demands of day to day life, and can have what appears to be a `breakdown`. Whereas if a professional had been more understanding of the way autism can present in women, they could have been diagnosed and received the help and support they need both from professionals, and from fellow members of the autism community.
This stereo-type has been around virtually since autism was first known about. Thankfully now it is beginning to change, and people have stopped saying that there are hardly any females with autism, and begun saying there are hardly any females diagnosed with autism. Even though the concept of assigning certain aspects of a condition to specific genders is not a fool-proof and permanent solution, it is undoubtedly not simply a big step forward, but a monumental one.
Vast numbers of people who would have had to suffer in silence in years gone by, and may very well have ended up with depression and anxiety, eating disorders, or alcohol and drug addictions, can now be diagnosed and hopefully get the help and support they need to live a normal life. Not to say that autism won’t be a challenge for them, but as soon as something is known, it becomes much less of a challenge than when it is unknown. It will probably take some time for this knowledge to filter through to the general public. But as long as professionals don`t persist with the archaic philosophy that autism is somehow a male condition, then the autism community can wait a while for the general public to catch up.
*To learn more about the Autistic Crash you can read Paddy-oe’s article here.