Why do women make up only one in four of those diagnosed as autistic? Could it be that they are simply better at pretending not to be? Charlotte Moore meets a group of women for whom ‘normal’ is an alien language that they battle to learn
I am in Godalming, Surrey, sitting with a group of pleasant, personable women who have come together, as they do each month for an all-women’s night, to share news, views and experiences. You’d imagine that the room would be alive with a babble of voices, but it’s not. The gossipy, reciprocal flow of normal female conversation is absent, and so far not one of them has asked me, a stranger, a single question about myself or what I am doing here. The stilted atmosphere would strike outsiders as disconcertingly weird, but these women are oblivious to the awkwardness. They are autistic, and for them this is normality.
‘We are not real women according to any of the known guidebooks… [But] we are not from another planet. We tricked you… We are from right here, Planet Earth.’ So writes Judy Singer, one of 19 contributors to Women from Another Planet? (2003), an anthology written by a group of women on the autistic spectrum who met on the internet. While Singer, her co-authors, and the women gathered around me in Surrey, may not be from another planet, they do constitute a distinct minority. According to current statistics one in 100 British people has autism (I am myself the mother of two autistic boys), and one in four of those is female.
Ever since autism was first identified in the 1940s it has been accepted that autistic males heavily outnumber females. In Autism: Explaining the Enigma (2003), Uta Frith, a leading developmental psychologist at University College London, says that among those with the most severe autistic symptoms the ratio of men to women is four to one, rising to 15 to one among those with Asperger’s syndrome (a variant in which autistic behaviours are less extreme and verbal ability is higher). But she goes on to speculate, ‘It is worth considering whether girls are less likely to be detected… Girls are often considered to be more verbal and more compliant than boys in educational settings, and therefore might show better compensatory learning.’
To read more of this great piece, written (in 2008) by Charlotte Moore please visit The Telegraph