There are potentially 700,000 autistic people in the UK and many of them are undiagnosed adults.
We used to think that there were 10 times as many males with autism, however now we realise it is more likely a 2:1 ratio, 2 males for every 1 female. Many females that are autistic can go undiagnosed for a long time. We should consider the possibility of an underlying autism spectrum disorder far more frequently when women are struggling socially and present with anxiety, depression, low mood and suicidality.
Long term masking, watching, copying and imitating others in order to fit in and be accepted takes a longer term toll on mental health. From population studies we know that 70% of autistic people will have at least one other mental health concern and autistic women, without a learning disability are 8 times more at suicidal risk compared to the general population.
These statistics highlight the mental health consequences of female masking and trying to pretend to be like everyone else in order to be accepted and fit into the social world.
It is essential that autistic women are firstly, correctly identified and diagnosed as autistic, then supported to develop a stronger and more robust sense of self that values and celebrates their authentic selves.
What has Flo taught us?
Flo is an autistic woman who is a stand up comedian. She sees her improvisation performances as being no harder than living her general everyday life, especially her encounters and interactions with people she comes in contact with on a daily basis. Even engaging briefly with a shop cashier takes high levels of monitoring and processing to get right.
As an autistic woman she can do small talk. She can be in the company of large numbers of people, she can connect to an audience and she can behave like everyone else. No one would consider her to be an autistic woman however, autistic individuals do not need to look or behave in a certain way to be autistic.
Hyper-vigilance in the social arena is exhausting and one can lose sight of their true self as they try to be what they think others want them to be. This can range from being the perfect daughter to the fun-loving friend. Even those with who she closely shares her life, don’t know there is an underlying and hidden Flo that is her authentic self. Autistic women can often lose sight of self as they try and please everyone else around them.
Flo, although close to her mother, is fearful of her mother’s emotional response to her revealing her true self. She fears rejection, disapproval and disappointment. Her autism makes predicting the emotional response of others extremely challenging, as is the case for many autistic individuals. For autistic women, unmasking, if even only to themselves, can be both rightening and challenging. However, autistic women who unmask often find it opens the doosr to leading a more authentic, free and happy life.
What has Murray taught us?
Murray is a non speaking autistic man who has the capacity to communicate very successfully. However, he is only able to communicate well to those that have taken the time to slow down, be considerate and believe that things are not always as they seem.
If more people truly opened their hearts and minds to listen and value the voices of individuals like Murray, we would be able to challenge the stigma often surrounding non-verbal autistic individuals and allow for their opinions and views to be heard more easily..
Every autistic person should have their place in the world and should be allowed to find their voice in the same way as the more intellectually able do.
Inside Our Autistic Minds presents two very different yet equally inspiring stories of Flo and Murray. Both individuals have taught us that there is more to autism than meets the eye; that it is not necessarily what we see on the outside, but rather what lies inside that defines an autistic person.
We learn from this episode the importance of understanding and believing in the unique strengths of all autistic individuals, regardless of the gender or their ability to communicate. We must never underestimate, overlook or disregard any autistic individual’s potential.
It is only then that we can work towards creating an inclusive society that truly values and celebrates neurodiversity.