Discussions about whether Autism manifests itself differently in boys and girls are rife at the moment, I myself did two radio interviews on the subject on Tuesday and another yesterday which are linked at the bottom of this page.
There are so many misconceptions about autism at the best of times and the generally held view that social skills can’t be learnt, to an extent, is one of them. I’ve watched my girls make mistakes and try not to make the same mistake again by mimicking the reaction of others but there are still elements that they cannot master. Recognising the gaps in conversation where it is socially acceptable to interject is one area they all still struggle with, knowing where to come in is a natural instinct that most of us have inbuilt but it’s a very tricky one to get right if you’re trying to judge it in a logical way. They still interrupt, but they’re not being rude, they just don’t have the inbuilt wiring to master this particularly complex skill.
A lot of the ignorance surrounding girls with autism was highlighted by a caller to the Nicky Campbell show called David, he has written a thesis on autism (a very flawed one from what I can make out) where he believes that if someone is capable of learning how to be socially more adept, they cannot be on the autism spectrum. I couldn’t disagree more, I have watched my children, especially my girls, learn how to behave in a more socially acceptable way from the mistakes they have made. The tricky part for them is transferring the lesson they learned from one experience to another similar, but not exactly the same, situation that they encounter later on. However, over time, they have built a ‘library’ of information that enables them to behave in a neurotypically more acceptable way in future encounters. Social skills are not inbuilt, they have been learnt in the same way we learn maths, they have developed formulas that work a lot of the time.
And herein lies some of the problems with diagnosing girls, they have a greater ability to ‘mimic’ others behaviour in order to try to fit in with what is generally regarded as being ‘socially acceptable’. Surely, the logical step forward here is that the diagnostic criteria for girls should be altered to allow for this? We know that an early diagnosis is extremely useful, but I meet so many girls at the autism support group I run that haven’t been diagnosed until their teens, and once the hormones kick in, their lives become even harder.
We all need to understand that autism is not a sexist condition, it affects girls as much as boys and something has to change so they don’t slip through the net with the frequency that we’ve seen in the past. Parents, teachers, clinicians, doctors etc….need to stop thinking that, if they are dealing with a girl, then autism is out of the question……..it’s not!
Nicky Campbell Interview:- David starts at 14:30, I start at 53:20
BBC Coventry and Warwickshire Interview:- I start at 1:49:20
BBC World Service World Have Your Say Interview:- Starts at 26:30