For many years I wondered about parallels between my own experiences and those of folks on the spectrum. I always dismissed the possibility because I believed those with autism lacked emotional range (so not true).
Then, about a year ago, I began noticing and reading articles about females on the spectrum. This led me to several books about “mild” or “Asperger’s” type autism in females. Viewing my past through the lens of autism, some of my most difficult experiences suddenly began to make sense.
ASD in females particularly can look very different than males, especially when the traits are “mild.” Folks on the spectrum are very diverse and “mild” might describe an individual who can care for themselves, but cannot understand how to make friends. In one or more areas they may function nearly like a neurotypical.
Aspergian females may appear quite neurotypical, especially to strangers and acquaintances. Just Google or search youtube for autism and women. It blew my mind when I did so. They seem so “normal.” They seem just like me.
When I told a psychiatrist my suspicions, I was worried he might be dismissive. ASD in females is not always well understood. He was not dismissive, but I was told that getting a diagnosis as an adult would be difficult and potentially quite expensive. I may seek an official dx in the future, but for now I am content with self-identifying. Most people on the spectrum are fairly accepting of that, but some feel it can lead to lack of treatment for other disorders. A few are simply annoyed that lots of folks seem to be jumping on the ASD bandwagon. I honestly just can’t give a f*ck about other people’s opinion (especially strangers) of me any longer. I have run the gamut of diagnoses and interventions, none of which really fit. For example, the only time I was ever truly “manic” was when I was on antidepressants. I couldn’t sleep when on anti-depressants and many folks on the spectrum are quite sensitive to medications.
Also, I have a love / hate relationship with labels. It is sometimes helpful to have a label that a loved one could perhaps look up online or read a book on. It is sometimes helpful to have a label so you can find understanding, support and a community. It is sometimes helpful to have a label you can advocate for. It is not helpful when you end up in a box with all sorts of generalizations, misconceptions and limitations placed on you. Either by yourself or others.
I think it is very painful for many women on the spectrum. I do believe many can benefit from diagnosis or at least awareness of ASD in females. Many are never diagnosed or misdiagnosed, often as bipolar. Because folks on the spectrum are often quite sensitive to medication, this can really cause problems (although some might be considered to have concurrent issues).
Like many women on the spectrum, I can blend pretty successfully with neurotypicals, at least for limited time periods. This is because we can mimic social interactions that we observe. Unfortunately, we sometimes apply the wrong script to a situation. Or if the situation is unlike what we have experienced in the past, we may freeze or act “inappropriately.” It is honestly very exhausting. Very difficult to know what we actually need / want / enjoy and what we need to do just to “pass.” It can also be quite painful / embarrassing to never know if you are saying or acting the right way. I have so often felt like a phony. I often feel bad that I have what feels like no friends. I can’t keep up with friends because I don’t know how.
Often the exhaustion leads to limited choices. For example, working full time but having no energy for friends, no partner, etc. Having a family but feeling completely overwhelmed by children. It is extremely painful if you don’t understand why. You can definitely feel like a bad person.
When I was younger I was involved with a spiritual group that I felt quite comfortable in. I first met and formed a friendship with the leader of the group. At that time, and in the circles I was in, it was fine to be weird and “quirky.” Because our group was definitely not interested in cultural norms. The group slowly grew and I was able to meet people one by one or occasionally in twos. But I always felt my friend, the leader, was my touchstone. I didn’t have to act a certain way or be afraid (I can be quite fearful of people).
Some years later I joined another group. The dynamic was totally different and I couldn’t find my touchstone. I met several people at once. I was anxious all the time because group norms were much more liberal (some practiced flexible lifestyles such as polyamory, etc.) and I didn’t know how to react (I didn’t have a script for this). There were quite a few nights at clubs, also. As you might imagine that is totally overwhelming for me and I have to drink to excess to cope. I also have a very difficult time processing what is being said if more than one person is talking. I just couldn’t find my place. I was trying to apply scripts and really just ending up pissing people off who could see I was phony. It was a clusterf*ck. Just as an aside, I am fine with polyamory, etc. I couldn’t give a f*ck. But at the time it was all new to me and I just didn’t know how to react. If I reacted in the “wrong” way (i.e. differing opinion) I felt really judged.
Since then, I have really been turned off to groups of any kind.
So, that’s just a small example. There have definitely been times in my life where people are pissed off with me and I have no idea why. I might figure it out later, but processing in the moment often doesn’t work because just being with another person can be overwhelming at times.
I think some women on the spectrum pay a really high price. If a man isn’t very social, it’s not that big of deal. If a woman isn’t very social or needs social interaction in just a certain way, it can seem a bit odd to people. Women often do need friends and perhaps desire a partner. Men on the spectrum may feel less of a need for that.
Similarly, if a man isn’t social with his co-workers nobody gives a f*ck. If a woman isn’t social she might become the victim of bullying or nasty gossip at work. She might just be seen as a cold person, which is usually furthest from the truth.
When I was younger, my sensory issues were debilitating at times. Minor sounds were painful. I couldn’t tolerate touching. I have actually reflex hit people at times when they touched me unexpectedly. I was a mess, I felt completely batsh*t crazy. I couldn’t tolerate my toddler. Things are better now because I understand when I’m having a hard time and go rest in a dark room with earplugs in.
A lot of women who aren’t aware of ASD are just struggling to get through life with no understanding of why life is so f*cking hard. I feel incredibly lucky and blessed to have a family that has always understood I am not neurotypical and usually tried to support me in whatever way they could.
In case you are interested, two books I read include Aspergirls by Rudy Simone and I am AspienWoman by Tania A. Marshall.
Here is a link to the list of female ASD traits from Apergirls.