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Masters of camouflage

One of the reasons it is more difficult to diagnose autism in girls and women is to mask its symptoms. As it turns out, we are masters of camouflage. Not only do we learn social behavior faster than boys, but we also pretend to be neurotypical very effectively. Of course, it's not that girls know about their autism and hide it. So what is the point?

It's no secret that from an early age women face restrictive social expectations. These expectations more strongly affect the opportunity for expression than they do for boys(be polite, sit quietly, don't hunch over, don't raise your voice, etc.), so girls get a stronger message about how to behave and what not to do. Autistic girls also internalize social norms and learn early on that they don't meet them. A strong sense of difference causes great anxiety and loneliness. To weaken them as much as possible, we start to conform and pretend to be someone we are not. What does this look like?

Let me use an example from my experience. Usually when I meet people I have seen before, I remember the exact circumstances and date of the first meeting. Recently, a person, while greeting me, said: "we have met before, haven't we?". I replied: "yes, it must have been last year", although I immediately realized that of course I remembered when exactly, where and on what occasion it happened. However, I am aware that a person might think it very strange, and might even be frightened. So I respond according to the social norm. I also try to maintain eye contact during the conversation, although it is almost physically painful for me. I am able to talk about the weather for a while (no longer), although I don't see the point of it. Sometimes I meet with more than one person, although I feel great discomfort at the time. Occasionally I'll take a phone call of some kind, although I'd rather not. Don't think, however, that this is done without cost.

Adapting to social norms involves tremendous effort. This, among other reasons, is why women on the autism spectrum often suffer from depression. Sometimes this is the only diagnosis we receive, which, of course, does not solve our problems. That's why it's so important not to apply the same diagnostic measure to girls and boys - gender expectations differentiate our behavior from early childhood.

Ewa Furgal / Girl on the Spectrum, www.dziewczynawspektrum.wordpress.com/  


Literature:

  1. Helge Hasselmann, There's such a thing as "autism camouflaging" and it might explain why some people are diagnosed so late, https://digest.bps.org.uk/2017/02/24/theres-such-a-thing-as-autism-camouflaging-and-it-might-explain-why-some-people-are-diagnosed-so-late/ (accessed 06.08.2017).
  1. Girls can camouflage symptoms of autism. Interview with Dr. Agnieszka Rynkiewicz, Nowiny24.pl, 09.06.2013, http://www.nowiny24.pl/wywiady/art/6191699,dziewczynki-potrafia-kamuflowac-objawy-autyzmu,id,t.html (accessed 06.08.2017).
  1. Liane Holliday Willey, Pretending to Be Normal: Living with Asperger's Syndrome, Jessica Kingsley Publishers 1999.
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