Girls with autism are often seen as something of a rarity. A lot of writing on the subject, unless specifically about girls and women, focuses on traits more common in men on the spectrum. Then again, that might just be linked to the patriarchy. But still. The popular statistic is that autistic men outnumber autistic women – 4:1.
Is that actually true? I don’t know. It is a popular belief that an autistic brain is an extreme version of a more average male brain. But that doesn’t explain why women on the spectrum exist at all. There probably is some genetic influence. I mean, colour blindness, left-handedness, and ADHD are more common in guys. Yet others would argue that autistic girls slip under the radar. Why is this?
For a start, girls are thought to be better protected among their peers at school. Maybe up until the teen years*, anyway. Girls with it tend not to care how they come across. Girls without it aren’t too worked up yet about their social image. To them, that girl who needs help in lessons and who still carries toy animals everywhere by 11 years** is in need of social salvation. Who better to take under their wing?
Meanwhile, autistic boys are apparently more vulnerable from day one. Most boys run on dirt, chaos, physical competition and other autism nemeses. Boys who don’t may very well find themselves at the butt of all that. And men who don’t are often presumed to be gay.
But boys on the spectrum still have those surpressed, testosterone-fuelled emotions. Combine that with being in a world where your peers use you for target practise and nothing at school makes sense, you can see why some are prone to angry outbursts. This isn’t unheard of in girls, but it is less common. For one thing: sorry guys, but girls do tend to be more in tune with their own emotions on average, and more likely to worry about how their actions affect others – even if their judgement here is poor.
On the flipside, this makes them less prone to emotional outburts. Which sounds like a good thing. It’s easier for those around you to deal with, and who wants to (figuratively) explode under pressure anyway? But keeping inner turmoil under wraps all the time is like being unable to expel poison. It goes unnoticed, and unaided.
Which is why we need more awareness. As far as autism is concerned, men and women aren’t always polar opposites. But, like neurotypicals, there are differences. Guys might be fascinated by Maths, Physics, computers and the like. Or they might be more creative. Girls may err towards art, literature, and animals. Or they might have a head for technical stuff.
Whatever you have learned about girls, guys, and the autistic spectrum, keep on learning. And what better way to learn than by getting to know an individual as the unique person that they are?
*Don’t even go there. Actually, please do. Right here.
**Not mentioning any names. Especially not mine.