There are so many controversial topics in autism: gluten, age of diagnosis, “where you are on the spectrum,” should America still have Asperger’s as a diagnosis, and whether or not the experience of living on the spectrum varies by gender. Increasingly, I am being asked, “Where are all the girls?” and “Do you think we can actually do accurate diagnostics for females on the spectrum?” (As Judge Judy says, “’Um’ is not an answer!”)
While I read a lot and try to keep current, I can’t know everything. I did, however, track down a book written by people who DO know everything! If you are raising a female on the spectrum, or work professionally with this population, please read Girls Growing Up On the Autism Spectrum: What Parents and Professionals Should Know About the Pre-Teen and Teenage Years by Shana Nichols, Gina Marie Moravcik, and Samara Pulver Tetenbaum. In fact, pause, order the book, and then return to this post. Seriously.
This book will allow the question of “is it different for girls?” to come to a gentle close. This book would say, “Yes, and let me explain…” This book is fully of science, anecdotes, and resources! For a quick preview, this book deeply discusses anxiety, puberty, periods, self-confidence, friendships, healthy sexuality, and personal safety. This book feels like a must-read for anyone interfacing with adolescent girls, never mind girls on the spectrum.
The authors are fearless. They ask the questions the rest of us fail to ask, or lack the courage to ask. They ask about body image, nutrition, exercise, how others perceive their clients, and how clients think others perceive them. The responses are shocking, helpful, and familiar. This book reminds me to keep asking questions, keep reading, and believe that science will eventually catch up to what clinicians and parents have been saying: we have a problem, from diagnosis to treatment, when we are considering females. (We have already started to discuss this with other diagnosable conditions, including ADHD, anxiety, depression, alcohol…time to get crackin’, Team Autism!) Let’s applaud these authors, the families that contributed, and everyone who is trying to make a difference. And let’s persist, please. The work is not done.