While the vast majority of individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s appear to be male, there certainly are females with Asperger’s, and these gals are often misunderstood. I have heard well-educated people say things like, “Well, she can’t have Asperger’s because she is a girl.” This was clearly the experience of Julie and Andrew Clark, raising their daughter Kristina.
Julie Clark’s book Asperger’s in Pink: Pearls of Wisdom from Inside the Bubble of Raising a Child with Asperger’s offers a genuine portrayal of a girl with ASD, and the challenges of raising and educating her. Julie very carefully navigates the difficulties and the joys of parenting on the spectrum, highlighting what she has learned, what she wishes someone had told her, and what she wishes she had done differently. She also highlights the unique perspective of her child, and how that unique worldview influences Julie’s thought process. Each chapter ends with a bulleted list for parents, educators/others, and a moment of gratitude or a desire for more information.
One of the most challenging aspects of the book is reading about teachers, mental health professionals and others who unwittingly made Kristina’s life more challenging. On occasion she had a teacher who didn’t understand ASD and took offense at Kristina’s corrections or suggestions. Other professionals suggested alternate diagnoses, having never met a girl on the spectrum before.
While there are certainly more girls in our community who have been diagnosed as living on the spectrum in recent years, confusion remains. There are a couple of ways to look at this: there are some ASD behaviors that are common across the male and female experiences (difficulties with literal language interpretation, difficulty with understanding and expressing emotions, sensory difficulties, etc.). AND there are some cultural and environmental experiences that differ for boys and girls. As elucidated in Julie’s book, in early elementary school girls and boys play differently. Other girls would actually give Kristina corrective feedback about her behaviors (and years later would abandon ship and leave Kristina on her own), whereas boys with ASD appear to be left out early on or physically bullied more directly. This appears to mirror what I have heard in my practice: girls get some nurturing for a bit, then peers become more exclusive, and boys have an altogether different experience. The core symptoms remain the same, but the cultural expression and acceptance of the symptoms appear to differ by gender.
In sum, I have heard both realities, with Neurotypicals generally stating that the difference between Aspies and NTs are the primary variables to consider, and with female Aspies stating that there are very real differences between the male and female experience of living on the spectrum. This pattern of insight echoes the comments I hear from women (women in medicine, women in business, women buying cars…): yes, we are all human and thus all the same, and sometimes females are treated differently. Maybe we should listen carefully to what our women are telling us and consider how we can best address the stresses they experience.
If you would like to share your Aspie experience, please contact me!