• The Feminist Times

Mis(sed) diagnosis of women on the autism spectrum



Report cards spread across the carpet: “Quiet and disciplined child”, “Speaks less and creates no problem”, the remarks read. Relatives fawn over the shy and reserved young girl. Growing up, there was never a problem adhering to the “pin-drop” silences that were being demanded. The companionable silences were only an issue to the boys since the girls are “always quiet”. The tailor-made example of a good girl. Supremely quiet, learning languages with ease, into arts and crafts, and chatty with that one true Best Friend Forever.

To the average person, this just sounds like the prototype of an average good girl. Yet, as

these all-adhering “good girls” grow up, why are they so heavily diagnosed with mood or

other disorders? Growing up doing everything “perfectly”, must, in turn, also line up everything “perfectly” for the future, isn’t it? Perhaps, it is just that as we grow up, so do the problems. Or perhaps, it is the fact that what is seen as “innate” isn’t as ordinary as we

believe it to be. Young boys who show a dislike to socialization, rough sports, crowded or noisy places are instantly recognized to be showing uncharacteristic traits. They are usually taken to a specialist to get their autism diagnosis. However, with girls who do just the same, through conventional human socialization, it is believed to be their very nature. It is considered a hallmark of their “bright, feminine” future that they are reserved and dislike rowdiness. Those girls never make it to a specialist. They sit around decades of their life trying to figure out what is wrong with them. As both these genders grow older, the boys get a shot at avoiding potential ostracization and complex emotional turmoil. The girls, however, unable to take years of this effort to hide who they truly are and being praised for what ails them, finally make it to a specialist, only to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. Their autistic meltdowns are dismissed as experiencing a depressive phase. The treatment is to the effect, and not the cause. Despite getting a certain diagnosis, potentially autistic women never truly get to feel how a holistic understanding of the issue at hand could change their lives and all around it. There is either a misdiagnosis, a missed diagnosis, or an under-diagnosis.

Women can mask better because of the autistic characteristics that go hand-in-hand with what it takes for them to blend in with the rest: potentially heightened linguistic ability, sharp observation and consequent mimicry of their peers, more social awareness than their counterparts. While autism in men and women might have some similar and other distinct characteristics, it must be realized that socialization that leads us to categorize a whole group of people in a way that is harmful to them must be shunned. All autistic girls must hold the same right and dignity to their autism diagnosis as the boys do, to ensure that it isn’t limiting the experience of an autistic woman; isn’t limiting her to be unapologetically who she is. Professionals, parents, and society alike must let go of old-age beliefs over the conduct of a girl and must objectively assess what is at hand. With the absence of these preconceived notions additionally with a feminist and medically informed attitude towards the upbringing of children, we can save our girls from a world of pain and truly bring them to a level where the possibility of even a micro-inequality doesn’t exist.


-Shubhra Tripathi

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