This article is a continuation of our interview with Jen Saunders and Tara Doyle, founders of the Autistic Women’s Collective online community at www.autisticwomenscollective.com. Part one can be read here.
ADN: What made you decide to target your community to women only?
Jen: We chose to target the AWC to women only for a couple of reasons. Firstly, at the time, there wasn’t an online community with discussion forums for Autistic women and mothers of daughters on the spectrum, but there was a great need for one.
Secondly, Aspergers affects women differently than it does men, and we wanted to create a space where women can connect and find people they can relate to. Since opening the community, we’ve all been pleasantly surprised at just how similar we all are.
Tara: I truly felt as if the female autistic voice is silenced by the presence of men. In the many co-ed communities I joined I saw women shrinking back and men dominating the discussions. If a woman posted a question, men would jump in, and oftentimes the women would go silent. I felt that for me, personally, I wanted a place where I knew I could speak, as a woman, freely to other women and get honest feedback from them. I deeply desired a place to feel “safe.” I knew I couldn’t be alone in that wish.
ADN: Can you share some of the challenges you’ve had navigating the autism community as a woman on the spectrum?
Jen: I was quite overwhelmed at first, and while I was frustrated with the lack of resources for me at the beginning, my overall experience in the autism community has been very positive.
Tara: Of course it can be difficult to cut through the male-dominated model of autism, however I feel that the online presence of info. on spectrum women is increasingly good. My biggest struggle with being a woman on the spectrum is in “real life” because there hasn’t been enough information made public knowledge to be able to be understood or accepted at face value.
ADN: In your experience, what do you think the most common differences between males and females on the spectrum are?
Jen: It seems the biggest difference is in how autism “presents” in women. Everyone is different, but I know for me, I became an expert at mimicking and hiding my autistic traits at a young age, without even being fully aware I was doing it. From the discussions I’ve had on the AWC, it seems other women did the same.
Tara: To me, it’s all about how we mask! In general, we females seem to construct this careful visual for the benefit of the outside world though we may be falling apart on the inside. It’s really pretty amazing. I think we are super-heroes! This difference, however, could be in how society expects men and women to act. It’s far more socially acceptable for man to “tell it like it is” or be socially awkward than for a woman.
Autism Daily Newscast would like to thank Jen and Tara for their time.
For more information on the Autistic Women’s Collective visit their web site here.