Autism in Derry Girls

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about one of the main character’s in the acclaimed comedy show ‘Derry Girls‘ whom many consider to be autistic- Orla McCool.

So what’s ‘Derry Girls’ about?

Set during the Northern Ireland Troubles in the early 1990’s, ‘Derry Girls’ follows the lives of four teenage girls, and the honorary Derry “Girl” James, growing up in Derry in the years preceding the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Despite the sectarian clashes of The Troubles around them, the gang navigate life with good humour, getting themselves into all sorts of wacky and hilarious situations- just like any other “normal” teenagers.

If you’ve never seen Derry Girls you can check out a trailer for the show here:

Among the fab five is Orla (played by Dubliner Louisa Harland), a quirky, somewhat innocent girl who lives in a complete world of her own and is one of the show’s biggest sources of comic relief. She has really niche interests (she’s obsessed with sweets, step aerobics and Renault Clios), is very literal and truthful, is sensitive to loud noises and is often completely oblivious to social norms, cues and potential dangers. For example, Orla once expressed interest in joining the Orange Order for their drumming skills despite being a Catholic… She also appears to be sensitive to textures as can be seen in the picture above where she is rubbing her face with a sponge.

Here are some of Orla’s best moments from the show (Fun fact- her clips are the most viewed of all the gang on YouTube):

Now one of the most interesting things about Orla is that it appears she was not originally intended to be portrayed as an autist, just a complete individual. Back in the 1990’s in Ireland, ASD’s were relatively unheard of (hence why yours truly flew under the radar for 24 years), so Orla is simply just seen as an odd girl. In a recent interview, Louisa Harland revealed that she has had an overwhelmingly positive response from the autistic community with many female autists writing letters to her to say how much they loved her portrayal of Orla and how they finally felt like they were being represented. Louisa took this info forward into season 2 to really add more depth to Orla ๐Ÿ™‚

Regardless of whether Orla is autistic or not, ‘Derry Girls’ is a very enjoyable show and worth adding to your watch list ๐Ÿ™‚

Derry Girls - Rip Poster | All posters in one place | 3+1 FREE

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Have a lovely weekend! ๐Ÿ˜€

Aoife

Autism and Gender Identity

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Leading on from my previous post about autism and sexuality, this week I’d like to discuss an emerging area of research interest- autism and gender dysphoria.

In recent years, research is mounting that suggests that there is a higher prevalence of gender dysphoria and diversity among autists compared with the neurotypical population i.e. they don’t identify as the sex they were assigned at birth. It has even been estimated that transgender individuals could be 3-6 times more likely to be diagnosed as autistic! ๐Ÿ˜ฑ

As a cis-gendered woman I cannot personally comment on this issue (apart from thinking it would be a great idea to switch gender at will to avoid dealing with womanhood as a preteen ๐Ÿ˜› ), but based on these statistics I would just like to draw some awareness. Life can be hard enough as an autist or an individual with gender dysphoria alone, but when you marry the two, rates of depression and anxiety are reported to be much higher.

While the reasons for gender dysphoria are wide and varied, for autists, there may be a larger biological component as to why many may feel they have been born into the wrong bodies.

As I have discussed previously, MRI scans of autists brains have shown that men with autism have anatomically similar brains to neurotypical women, and women with autism have anatomically similar brains to neurotypical men which could lead to gender confusion. In addition to this, high levels of foetal testosterone in utereo have been linked to the development of autism in recent years. This exposure has been proposed as a possible reason that autistic women may suffer from gender dysphoria, but this does not explain why autistic men may wish to transition. Interestingly the current evidence does indeed support a prevalence of autistic traits among trans-men vs. trans-women. Research is ongoing to investigate the link between gender dysphoria and autism.

Whilst the current evidence suggests that gender dysphoria and autism may be linked, it is important to remember that they are not mutually exclusive. It is useful to know that there may be a link, but bear this in mind when seeking support.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Menopause

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Leading on from my post about periods and autism, this week I’d like to explore another taboo aspect of life on the spectrum- autism and the menopause.

Apologies once again to my male readers!

I may be too young to give a personal slant on this subject, but I’d like to create some visibility for the often overlooked adult female members of the spectrum. Public discussions surrounding autism are so often centered on childhood, potential issues for adult autists can be forgotten.

The change brings many difficult physical and emotional changes for women such as hot flashes, memory issues, mood swings, sexual dysfunction and issues with mental health. Now imagine how these changes might impact an autist who is already sensitive to change and temperature, sleep disturbances, struggles to manage their emotions and can be predisposed to mental health difficulties?

The autistic life is already a roller-coaster, but throw in the menopause and the cart may just fly off the tracks.

Our knowledge of autism and the menopause is very limited as autism as a diagnosis in itself is only emerging from it’s infancy. Some of the first women to be diagnosed with autism are only now reaching menopause, so there is little available research about their experiences of the change. Of the studies that do exist, experiences of menopause for autistic women vary, however, many reported worsening of autistic symptoms. Some women reported that it they found it extremely difficult to mask their struggles and suffered serious deterioration in their mental health.

We clearly need to start a conversation about menopause and autism so that we can properly develop tools and supports to help women navigate this challenging time of life.

For those of you going through the menopause, have a look at this blog post about “Menopautism” from journalist Jane Renton writing about her experiences of the change as an adult with Asperger’s syndrome:

You can also find some useful additional resources for managing the menopause here:

https://www.aspireireland.ie/cmsWP/information/women-girls/menopause/

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Periods

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Continuing on from last week’s post about autism and puberty, this week I’d like to talk about autism and periods. I know, I’m about to alienate about half of my readers (sorry guys!), but this is a very important topic to cover for the often overlooked autistic female demographic.

Periods can be challenging for lot’s of women, however, for autists the experience can be somewhat of an ordeal. There can be a lot of overwhelming sensory issues where periods are concerned- new smells, sensations, and sensory issues related to the use of feminine hygiene products. Autists struggle greatly with change, and periods can be quite unpredictable over the course of our lives due to stress, hormonal changes, childbirth and eventually menopause (which I will discuss in a separate post at a later stage). As a result of this, female autists can develop a number of behavioural issues related to menstruation such as increased aggression and repetitive behaviours, not to mention changes in mood and mental health. Throw in a side of cramps and it’s no picnic!

In addition to the mental and behavioural toll, research has shown that periods are biologically much tougher on the autistic body. Studies have shown that women on the spectrum have higher levels of testosterone than their neurotypical peers (likely caused by dysfunction in the hypothalamus in the brain), leading to a number of menstrual related issues such as severe acne, hirsutism, irregular periods, polycystic ovary syndrome and dysmenorrhea. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is also highly prevalent in autistic women. Autists are also known to have high levels of inflammation in the body, which can further aggravate menstrual symptoms. Periods can even cause an increase in seizures in autists who also suffer from epilepsy due to hormonal fluctuations.

So what can you do to help a young autist through her period?

  • Educate them clearly about their changing bodies– autistic women can be particularly vulnerable, so they need to know exactly how their reproductive system works and the importance of consent. Use clear language that can not be misinterpreted or taken too literally. Understanding their body will also help them to better normalize menstruation so it is far less scary. As discussed in my last post, autistic women enter puberty much earlier than their peers, so it is essential that they are educated sooner rather than later about their changing bodies.
  • Check out autism friendly books about puberty/periods– there are a number of books available targeted at growing autists to help them navigate this challenging time. There are even books specifically about periods for young autistic women that may help.
  • Chat about different feminine hygiene options– as no two autists are the same, so no one option is better or worse when it comes to feminine hygiene products. There are far more options available these days to young women than just sanitary towels and tampons- they even make absorbent period underwear which could be very helpful for girls with sensory issues.
  • Setup a calendar/diary to track periods- the unpredictable nature of life and unexpected change can be particularly frustrating for autists. While periods can oftentimes be unpredictable and don’t always run on time, a calendar can nevertheless be very helpful to prepare an autist for upcoming periods and establish a routine. Knowing that an event is approaching can help to offset the scariness of it.
  • Break the taboo– reassure them that periods are a normal part of life and that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Periods may be overwhelming for autists, but they are by no means alone in their menstrual struggles.

Hope my female Earthlings at least enjoyed this week’s post! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Have a lovely weekend! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Puberty

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about a frequently sidelined aspect of life on the spectrum- puberty. So often people focus on childhood autism we forget that autistic children will grow up and go through puberty just like everyone else.

Puberty is a challenging time for everyone, but often even more so for those on the autistic spectrum. Research is limited on pubescent autists, but some studies have suggested that behaviours can worsen in autists during this time, in particular, aggressive behaviours. The smallest of changes to routine can trigger meltdown’s in an autist, so imagine how this response is amplified when your entire body decides to change. You couldn’t pay me to go through puberty again- the raging hormones were a minefield (although there are day’s during this pandemic where I might consider it to travel back to a time when I had freedom ๐Ÿ˜› )!

There can be a lot of sensory issues arising from the onset of puberty that can trigger further distress- body odours, sensory reactions to hygiene products, and my own personal hell, the sensory discomfort from wearing a bra. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, I went to war for years with my mother against wearing one as the sensation of it against my skin freaked me out and I was incredibly uncomfortable- but as I was un-diagnosed, this was passed off as just being awkward ๐Ÿ˜›

During puberty, socialising, an already challenging task for autists, becomes even more complicated. When you’re a child, everything is easier as kids haven’t developed a filter yet, but once those hormones kick in, conversations become more nuanced, boys and girls interact differently and your peers start to become aware of your mind blindness and excentricities. It can be quite a socially lonely time for autists.

So how can we navigate this difficult time in an autist’s life?

  • Talk openly about the facts of life– Talk them through the changes their body will experience in clear, concrete language. Don’t leave any room for confusion or misinterpretation so that they will be fully prepared and less thrown by the changes to come- there were certainly a few books that I read growing up where overly simplified language such as “a special hug” was used to describe sex that would only confuse and misinform the more literal autist
    • An important thing to know about puberty and autism is that it can have a much earlier onset in girls. Studies have shown that female autists tend to enter puberty and start menstruation on average 9 and a half months earlier than their peers, so girls need to be prepared and educated about the facts of life earlier than you might expect
  • Use visual tools– Sometimes words are not enough to create the correct mental picture for an autist. Illustrated books about puberty can be very useful here, and there are now many books specifically targeted at autists which can really help them to navigate this time
  • Discuss appropriate/inappropriate behaviours– don’t leave it at just the facts themselves. Autists will need to be taught about consent, sexual behaviours and inappropriate conversational topics just like anyone else. As female autists often mask their behaviours, it is especially important that they are taught about these things as they can be quite innocent and may be taken advantage of if not adequately prepared for adulthood
  • Sensory friendly clothing– For the young women out there, the market is now opening up to produce sensory friendly bras to help combat the issues of traditional brassieres. Bralette’s and lightweight sports bras may also be helpful alternatives
  • Normalise the experience– Reassure them that everyone goes through this, that it’s a normal part of growing up. Don’t attribute the entire experience to their autism
  • Be positive– Don’t assume things will be harder for your child as everyone is different. A positive attitude can go a long way to easing your child into the murky depths ahead

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely Easter weekend! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

What I Wished I Knew About Autism

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I’d like talk about some of the things I wished I had known about autism when I was first diagnosed. There’s so much to learn about the autistic spectrum, but here are just a selection of things I personally wish I had known:

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Autism is neurological not psychological– This is something that really stems from a lack of proper education about autism in the world. Because autism is so behaviour orientated, there is often a lot of onus on the psychology of the condition, and as such, people can be very dismissive of it. “If you just did this..”, “if you just tried to fit in…”- it’s not that simple. The autistic brain is wired completely differently to the neurotypical brain. There are chemical differences, differences in multiple structures in the brain, even differences in the number of brain connections. Behavioural changes can be made and coping strategies developed, but we need to be aware of the biological aspect- you can’t just swap out your brain for another. I wish I had understood that my own brain was hardwired to drop me into unfortunate situations growing up!

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Autism is a different way of thinking– The autistic brain is built differently, so therefore it thinks differently. It doesn’t mean that autistic thinking is not “normal”, just different.ย 

Autism is a spectrum- I know this one may seem silly as we’ve all heard of the autistic spectrum, but I wished I had known what being on the spectrum really meant. I had often heard the phrase “oh so-and-so is on the spectrum”, but took it to be a catch all term for people who were a bit odd, didn’t quite learn like everyone else, didn’t quite act like everyone else- basically people who weren’t quite “normal”. I never understood the minutia of the spectrum, that there were high functioning and lower functioning forms of autism. I wish I had known that traits were highly variable, that not everyone with autism is the same and that every case is unique. Perhaps if I had known this, I would have been far more understanding and less dismissive of my fellow autists growing up.

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Autists do experience empathy– We just may not be the best at expressing it. In fact as I’ve previously discussed, research suggests that we feel emotions on an even greater scale than neurotypicals.ย 

Autists want love– Asexuality is often thought to go hand in hand with autism. As I’ve previously discussed, most autists want to be loved, we’re just not sure how to communicate that or navigate the complexities of romantic relationships. Yes, there are a number of asexual individuals on the spectrum (as there equally are in the neurotypical population), but as with the spectrum of autistic traits, there is also a spectrum of sexuality.ย 

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That I wasn’t alone– For much of my life I felt like I didn’t fit in, like the world just didn’t understand me. I was always saying or doing the wrong thing, regularly subjected to looks of disappointment and dismay followed by lectures about my behaviour. When I would meltdown, I was ridiculed or punished as I sat there baffled by my own reactions, unable to explain to myself or others what had happened. Everything changed once I got my diagnosis; suddenly my behaviour was not so abnormal after all. There were articles, books and blogs filled with thousands of similar stories to mine. There was a name, an explanation, a community- I never have to feel alone again.

That I was “normal” (whatever that means) – As a result of being undiagnosed and misunderstood, I was constantly berating myself for not conforming to the accepted “norm”. The world told me that I was weird, that I was “wrong”, where nothing I ever seemed to do outside of academics seemed to be “right”. Had I truly known and understood that there is no such thing as “normal”, had I, and the world, known that being autistic is “normal” for millions of people, my life could have been so much simpler.

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Hope you liked this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚ย 

Enjoy the weekend!ย 

Aoife

My Autistic Fight Song- Rosie Weldon

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ˜€

As many of you may know, I love to read, and so I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to read an advanced copy of ‘My Autistic Fight Song‘ by Rosie Weldon.

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This enticing memoir charts Rosie’s journey through higher education, her autism diagnosis and her struggles in the workplace as she strived to achieve her dream of becoming an accountant.

You can find a trailer for the book here on Rosie’s Youtube Channel:

 

So what did I make of the book?

Reading this book was a very interesting experience for me as someone who has yet to engage with another female autist in the flesh. I’ve read many abridged accounts and watched many interviews with other female autists, but this was the first time I really was given a raw insight into the mind of someone other than myself.

In some ways I could have been reading my own story. My experience of autism has been significantly milder, but yet many of our experiences align. Both diagnosed in our twenties, both encountered challenges with social anxiety, both found comfort in music, Harry Potter and the confines of a secluded bathroom stall. It was fascinating to see into Rosie’s thought process, her thinking so often mimicking my own- growing up, it would have been nice to have come across this book to let me know that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t so different after all.

Autistic people and eating

Perhaps most interesting was Rosie’s experiences of the workplace. As I have discussed previously, only a small percentage of autists find full time employment. Rosie’s perseverance in the face of adversity in the workplace was inspiring. She was fiercely determined not to be another statistic, and this determination made her dream of being an accountant a reality.

It was also most heartening to see the support that Rosie received from her employers along the way- they did not see her autism as a challenge and instead found ways to work within her comfort zone, such as moving noisy machines to a different room. Having struggled in the workplace myself in a role where I was not adequately supported, I’m glad to see that not all employers see autism as a burden.

For anyone looking for an insight into the mind of a female autist, “My Autistic Fight Song” is the perfect bedtime read ๐Ÿ™‚

Rosie also has her own blog where she talks about autism which you can check out here: https://www.rosieweldon.com/

If you’d like to read ‘My Autistic Fight Song‘, the book will be available to buy from April 1st (conveniently timed for Autism Awareness Month) ๐Ÿ™‚

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ˜€

Enjoy the weekend!

Aoife

Greta Thunberg and Autism

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ˜€

So this week I’d like to discuss an inspirational young autist that I’ve been meaning to write about for some time- climate activist Greta Thunberg.

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For those of you who’ve been living under a rock (and I mean, seriously living under a rock, this girl has been all over the news ๐Ÿ˜› ), Greta is a Swedish teenager who began striking from school on Fridays outside the houses of parliament in Stockholm for action against climate change in 2018 at just 15 years of age. Greta rationalized that the impending climate crisis means no future for her generation, so why should she go to school to prepare for a future that would not exist?

Since she began striking, Greta’s actions have spawned an international movement known as ‘Fridays For Future‘ where students the world over are striking from school for climate change action. She was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019.

What a girl!

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In recent months however, attention has focused on the fact that Greta has Asperger’s syndrome (I’m in good company!). In her viral Ted Talk, Greta speaks of how learning about the climate crisis at 8 years old led to her diagnosis. Unable to process the inaction of the world, Greta became withdrawn, depressed and stopped eating, which led her to be diagnosed with OCD, selective mutism and Asperger’s Syndrome. As Greta so eloquently explained in her talk, thisย means that she only speaks when necessary. Now, in the midst of the climate crisis, is one of those moments.

You can see her viral TEDx Talk here:

 

 

Like me, Greta does not see Asperger’s as a disability, but as a gift, calling it her “superpower”. She recently discussed this on the Ellen DeGeneres show where she talked about how autists are important in a crisis such as global warming as we are different, and we need to think differently to find solutions. Her tenacity, her passion and her black and white, no nonsense speeches (all autistic traits), truly are superpowers in her fight to save the planet.

 

Greta Fun Fact-ย her mother represented Sweden in the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest ๐Ÿ˜€

However, the media have recently begun to turn on Greta because she is neurodivergent. A guest on Fox News recently described her as “mentally ill” sparking much discussion about the state of her mental health. As is often the case, once people hear the ‘a’ word, they automatically assign you a box…

Just a reminder– autism is NOT a mental illness; it’s a neurodevelopmental disorder. We may be greater disposed to having issues with our mental health due to higher stress levels, but an autism diagnosis is not synonymous with mental illness.

Whilst I would echo some journalists concerns about the strain of her current international exposure (fellow aspie Susan Boyle had to check into rehab for exhaustion after her viral appearance in Britain’s’ Got Talent), ultimately what Greta needs is action. Saving the planet is her specialist interest, and as I’ve discussed previously, we are consumed by our passions. She will stop at nothing or for no one to save the world.

Without a doubt, Greta is an extraordinary girl, and really shows that you should not allow yourself to be limited by your diagnosis. Indeed, there are people out there vehemently trying to write her off, but the rest of the world is listening.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ˜€

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Glee

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about autism in the popular multi-award winning, musical comedy-drama show ‘Glee‘.

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In case you’ve been living under a rock or have forgotten all about ‘Glee‘, ‘Glee‘ focused on a high schoolย show-choirย comprised of a group of misfits as they strive for fame and acceptance.

As I’ve been binge watching it on Netflix in recent weeks, I’ve discovered something that I missed when I initially watched the show, there was a character with Asperger’s syndrome in the choir room all along- Sugar Motta.

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Sugar Motta was introduced during the third series of the show as a girl with “self-diagnosed Asperger’s syndrome” which she claimed entitled her to say whatever she wanted and gave her carte blanche to be brutally honest with everyone.

Here’s a quick video with some of her moments from the show’s run:

So how does the character’s portrayal of Asperger’s fare?

Looking through the archives, the show received a great deal of backlash at the time for their use of Asperger’s as a punch line. Most people have argued that Sugar is not on the spectrum and is just a spoiled brat who uses Asperger’s as a means to get her own way, but in terms of traits the show wasn’t that far off the mark for a girl on the spectrum, albeit a brief glimpse. The brutal honesty, the inability to accept that she cannot sing (so much so that her rich father set up a rival glee club where she could be the star) or any criticism for that matter, and her high level of social functioning can be true for some female autists.

After a couple of episodes the character’s diagnosis is no longer mentioned, nor are her traits showcased. It’s no wonder really that I never spotted her Asperger’s when I watched the show originally as the character was relegated to the background of the show by the time I received my diagnosis in 2014.

All in all, I’d have to agree with the critics that the character doesn’t really have Asperger’s, or at the very least is a pretty poor depiction of the autistic experience.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ˜€

Until next time!

Aoife

“You Don’t Look Autistic!”

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

After reading a write in to an advice column in the newspaper this morning, the parent of a recently diagnosed child rationalized that the diagnosis didn’t make sense as their child was doing well in school, popular and “good socially.”

I found this particularly annoying as this type of attitude is something that we high functioning autists encounter all the time.

“You don’t look autistic?!”

“You’re normal!”

“You can’t be autistic!”

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These are some of the most common phrases I hear when I talk to people about my diagnosis, as do many high functioning autists. Whilst this is a great compliment to my upbringing and acting skills, this kind of reaction can be quite damaging for autists.

First things first- no one looks autistic ๐Ÿ˜›

It’s a neurodevelopmental disorder, how are we supposed to look? Unless you have eyes like an MRI or some type of X-ray vision, you won’t physically see our neurological differences! Roughly 1 in 68 people are autistic- that’s 1 person per double decker bus, 1 person per carriage on the average train, and 3 people on the average international flight. Would you say that you’ve seen someone that “looked” autistic every time you’ve used these transport services? ๐Ÿคจ

We’re everywhere, looking exactly the same as you do.

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^^^ Sorry couldn’t resist giving my favourite musical a shout out- 10 points if you get the song reference ๐Ÿ˜Ž

With autism, it’s very much a case of “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”.

With the increased generalization of the spectrum, from the outside, our books look alike, each with the same rainbow-coloured ‘autism’ cover on display. The stories inside however are very different. There may be similar themes, experiences and symptoms between books, but ultimately each is unique.

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Contrary to popular belief, just like the child in the advice column, many high functioning autists have an active social life. In college I was at every party going and the last one on the dance floor- had you seen me, would you have said I was autistic? Appearances can be deceptive, you donโ€™t know how hard some of us have to work on our social skills behind closed doors. Eye contact isnโ€™t natural for me, but with practice and forcing myself out of my comfort zone, no one would be any the wiser when chatting to me now. I’m a social butterfly who doesn’t outwardly appear autistic, but I have a piece of paper and an autism spectrum quotient score that say otherwise

No, I do not “look” like the stereotypical image of autism, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not riding that spectrum.

This attitude towards autism’s outward appearance could in fact be quite detrimental. If we don’t recognize that a person is autistic when they don’t fit the preconceived mould; they may languish for years without adequate understanding and supports for their needs. This is especially true for females on the spectrum who have learned the art of social masking, often flying under the radar of male centered diagnostic criteria.

As I have discussed many times before, autism is a spectrum, everyone is different and therefore their traits will be different. Don’t judge us by the ‘autism’ cover adorning our story, delve deeper into the book and you may be surprised at what you’ll learn ๐Ÿ™‚

Hope you enjoyed this post and have a lovely bank holiday weekend dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ˜€

Aoife

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