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Autism through the Female Lens

By Callie Turk, Co-Founder, REEL

It’s estimated that there are four times as many boys diagnosed with autism as girls; but researchers believe the incidence may be closer to three to one if only autism in girls were better understood (Ratto, 2020). This has massive implications for our ability to provide important early intervention services for girls who could benefit from them.


If you listen to stories from females who have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition in their teens or even later, it is clear that they have experienced years of suffering, neither understanding themselves nor being understood by others. Many have been misdiagnosed with other conditions, such as eating disorders, and endured severe bouts of anxiety and depression before finally receiving a long overdue autism diagnosis.


Which is why a recent post in one of my 2e (people who are bright and have learning disabilities such as autism spectrum conditions) Facebook groups grabbed my attention:


For those of you who have 2e daughters or identify as 2e and female yourself, do you wish there were more resources specifically focused on 2e females?


Hat tip to the incredible Julie Withrow for this question, which sparked a heartfelt and meaningful conversation for many parents in the group with 2e daughters. The answer? Yes, we definitely wish there were more resources.


Here’s the thing. I’m the mom of a 2e, autistic teen girl. She was identified as gifted at age 8 and diagnosed with autism at 12 ½. Looking back on the journey, though, the signs were there. The skin picking, the social challenges, the sensory issues, the passions. But, as a generally well-behaved girl with a high IQ and mad writing skills, it was easy not to see. Too easy. Because the DSM-V and all the representations of autism in our society don’t reflect the female experience.


Julie Withrow is the mom of a 2e daughter as well and is answering the call for more resources by launching a podcast called Exceptional Girls (www.exceptionalgirlspodcast.com) later this spring. I felt this same pull in a grad school class I took through the Bridges Graduate School of Cognitive Diversity in Education in the fall of 2020, working with classmates to create a presentation called Neurodiversity through the Female Lens. As soon as I saw Julie’s post, I reached out to her to say “let’s connect!” I wanted to share all of the resources and research I’d gathered to help propel her journey forward.


And then, I wondered, why haven’t I shared this list already? Wouldn’t people in our REEL community also be interested in this topic? And what resources might our community also know about? Shouldn’t we crowdsource some of this?


So, without further ado, we present the Females on the Spectrum references list, with information on books, videos, articles, research papers, and conference presentations centered on this important and yet often overlooked topic. We’ll soon work on resource lists for Females + ADHD and Females + Dyslexia.


Understanding the true nature of our children’s challenges and identifying their unique strengths provides the information we need to help them chart a pathway for life. And girls deserve to understand themselves and be understood as much as boys every dang day of the week.


Reference

Ratto, A. B. (2020). Commentary: What’s so special about girls on the autism spectrum? – a commentary on Kaat et al. (2020). Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 62(1), 107-109. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.13284


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