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January 2011



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By Catherine Faherty

Call Quote: We have far to go in understanding the unique challenges that women with autism or Asperger’s face.

Since 1990, Catherine has worked as a psychoeducational specialist at the Asheville TEACCH Center, one of the regional centers with the TEACCH Program through the University of North Carolina. She participates in weekly diagnostic evaluations for children and adults with autism, is a parent consultant and child therapist, consults to school programs, trains teachers and other professionals locally, nationally and internationally, and runs social groups for adults with autism. Catherine is the author of Asperger’s: What Does it Mean to Me? (2000, Future Horizons) and is a frequent presenter at conferences across the U.S.

A young woman who has participated for several years in a social group for adults with high functioning autism and Aspergers sponsored at our TEACCH Center in Asheville, recently remarked, “There aren’t a heck of a lot of women who have Aspergers or autism. The majority are males, and although we get along with the guys, there are some issues that they are never going to understand. I wish there was more information specifically for women who have autism.” Her comment prompted the initiation of the first women’s group at the Asheville TEACCH Center. While talking with this woman, who is in her 20’s, I was reminded of my own early adulthood. I remember the strong comradery and support of “women’s consciousness-raising groups” that sprouted up on college campuses and in living rooms in the 60’s and 70’s. While struggling for and demanding equality between the sexes in the society at large, we discovered that there were important distinctions that needed to be honored. Together we explored and defined what “being a woman” was about, in the company of other young women searching for self-awareness. Being a member of a women’s “CR” (Consciousness-Raising) group was educational, exciting, exhilarating, emotional, relevant…and never boring.

According to Tony Attwood and other professionals in the field, women with high functioning autism and Aspergers may be an underdiagnosed population. If this is true, some of the reasons may be attributed to gender differences.

Are there behaviors that are seen in girls with Aspergers, but not in boys, that we haven’t yet identified as part of the profile… or certain gender-related behavior that might fool us into ruling out the diagnosis? What about the “pretend play” that has been observed in many young girls at our center, which on the surface appears to be quite creative and imaginative? There seem to be many girls (on the spectrum) who are enamored with princesses, fantasy kingdoms, unicorns, and animals­­. How many diagnosticians observe these interests and skills as imagination, and rule out a diagnosis based on these behaviors? Might this interest in imaginary kingdoms and talking animals be more common among girls than boys, yet still exist alongside other autistic/AS traits?

And what about one typical response to confusion or frustration­­–hitting or other such outward expressions of frustration? Does this type of acting out occur more often in boys with autism than in girls? Is confusion or frustration simply easier to identify in boys than girls because we already look for it? Among the general population, it is commonly thought that boys do “act out” more than girls. (You sometimes hear teachers complain there are too many boys in his or her class, and its impact on the class’ personality!) Is it easier to identify boys as having autism because these behaviors are more obvious, than girls who may experience inward or passive signs of aggression?

Professionals whose task it is to diagnose individuals with autism or Asperger’s need to learn more about the full range of qualities and personality differences unique to girls and women on the spectrum.

Read in Full:  http://www.autismtoday.com/articles/Aspergers_in_Women.htm

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