Autism Girls and ‘Masking’
Autism is more easily diagnosed in boys than girls. It tends to present in the personalities of boys at a much younger age, and the younger you are, the more support there is. Many autistic women are diagnosed later in life, often following a multitude of mental health misdiagnoses.
It’s just not that easy to spot.
Generally, the desire to socialise, communicate and fit into a group (where there is no specific activity or purpose) is valued more in girls than in boys. So from an early age, many autistic girls learn to mimic the communication behaviours of their peers in order to ‘belong,’ whilst fiercely ‘masking’ all the things that are ‘different’ about themselves.
The ‘masking’ can become so engrained that they don’t even know they are doing it. They don’t know that they are hiding a communication ‘disorder,’ they just know they have to behave in a certain way in order to be accepted by other people, and they become very skilled at it by copying.
This ‘masking,’ (the suppression of Autism) cannot last. As you can imagine, it is lonely and exhausting, and often leads to autistic burnout. This is like a mental breakdown. Autism in women is often discovered after a trauma like this, because the older you get, the greater the expectation is that you ‘just know’ social and communication norms.
The older you get, the harder it is to hide, and the more you get left behind.
Boys’ and girls’ brains are different, but the diagnostic criteria for identifying Autism is still based on the studies of boys. This means that girls (especially girls with self-awareness) are susceptible to developing mental health disorders like depression, anorexia and anxiety, because they do not understand who they are, and this is incommunicable.
For some people, an official diagnosis is not necessary. They function within their limits, are accepted and supported in their environments, are mentally healthy, content in their own skin and proud of the brain they were born with. For me, (although it was a shock,) it was a relief to be diagnosed with something, after thirty years of apologetic despair, for not knowing inside why I am the way I am.
Here is a short film about the UK’s only school for autistic girls: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy3jYIqRIJg#searching