There have been a few articles of late about the under-diagnosis of women with autism.
I’ve spent a lot of time nodding along. After-all, I’m late-diagnosed. I was raised with no acknowledgement of my sensory and processing issues. I’m one of the lost generations, lucky enough to be found.
But sometimes the rhetoric behind it all slips into a familiar pattern. I start hearing how good we all were at masking, at hiding, at passing for neurotypical. It sounds like flattery, so I nod along to that too.
Then I furrow my brow. I wasn’t always good at it. I’m still not always good at it. Those times I’ve opened up to professionals about meltdowns and shutdowns, I wasn’t masking. As a child unable to hide from the rawness of my senses, I was not masking.
I like to think that when I put on a front, and perform the mannerisms and small-talk for my audience, that I’m getting it right. But I’m not. I’m not a born actor. My movements may be delayed or stunted. They suggest other mannerisms that I wasn’t trying to project; aloofness, arrogance, coldness. I’m misunderstood. Not always, but often enough that there’s clearly a pattern.
As a child I was not so far from the stereotypical male presentation for it not to apply. Did anyone ever suggest it? Nope. As a child I did not mask.
It’s not that I’ve not been hiding and trying to fit in, but that is not enough to justify the under-diagnosis.
It can feel a bit like being patted on the head with a, “You were just so very good at masking, that we couldn’t possibly have spotted you. Clever, little old you!”
When actually all I want is a sorry.
I want a, “We screwed up. We didn’t realise there were so many women out there struggling. We got it wrong. We let gender bias get in the way. We didn’t realise you might present differently. We will do better.”
But then I’m lucky, I only have to contend with the gender bias. The racial bias and under-diagnosis of anyone who doesn’t fit the white, male stereotype is not the fault of those who need the support. It needs to be actively challenged. It needs to be in the minds of every professional. It’s important.
Otherwise you’re denying people the chance to understand themselves.
You’ll never find what you don’t look for. Years of watching my children sweep a room with one glance before declaring “Can’t find it” has taught me that.