10 MYTHS ABOUT GIRLS WITH ASPERGER'S
MYTH: Asperger’s Is Easy to Diagnose In Girls
Truth: According to AutismSpeaks.org, 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls is diagnosed with Autism. Experts believe that fewer girls are diagnosed with Asperger’s because girls have greater social expectations placed on them than boys do.
Girls with Asperger’s are often superb actresses. We have taught ourselves how to behave in the hopes of fitting in. For example, I watched TV shows and movies to study how to socialize, often memorizing phrases and imitating body language. Since many girls put on master performances that emulate conventional social interaction, we are less likely to be diagnosed.
Myth: There Are More Boys Than Girls With Asperger’s
Truth: Although more boys are diagnosed with Asperger’s than girls, this does not mean that Asperger’s is less prevalent in girls. Boys are much more likely to be diagnosed because they tend to behave in a more traditionally autistic way. Since boys aren’t as pressured to mask their autistic traits, their unconventional behavior and poor social communication skills will be readily noticed. On the other hand, since girls are better at hiding and masking their social deficiencies, our autistic traits often go unnoticed and undiagnosed.
MYTH: Girls with Asperger’s Lack Empathy
Truth: I think that this myth comes from the fact that experts tend to focus on the term “empathy” rather than “sympathy.” Empathy requires you to step into another person’s shoes and view their situation from their perspective. On the other hand, sympathy requires you to be concerned about the person. Many people with Asperger’s struggle with empathy because they find it difficult to perceive a situation from someone else’s view point. Yet, people with Asperger’s are deeply sympathetic and caring.
Girls with Asperger’s usually have a great deal of empathy and/or sympathy for people, animals and nature. However, we may have a hard time showing our feelings in a conventional way. Since girls with Asperger’s typically have limited facial expressions, awkward body language, a flat tone of voice and unusual word choice, it may result in an observer misjudging and misinterpreting our thoughts, feelings and intentions. Although I struggle with empathy, this does not mean that I am unsympathetic, don’t care for others, am incapable of showing concern for others, have no emotions and am any less human.
MYTH: Girls with Asperger’s Don’t Have A Sense of Humor
Truth: People with Asperger’s have a tendency to take things literally. This makes it very difficult for us to understand sarcasm. We are also not great at dealing with teasing because of the complex undertones. However, that does not mean that we don’t have a sense of humor.
I find the humor in both the spoken and unspoken. Sometimes I have hilarious things going on inside my head that I prevent myself from blurting out. Instead people are faced with me doing a weird smile, as I relish the funny side of my unspoken joke while I simultaneously listen to what they have to say.
MYTH: Girls With Asperger’s Are Rude Because They Avoid Eye Contact
Truth: Most people with Asperger’s have trouble making eye contact. I avoid making direct eye contact because I find it very intense and scary. Although I can make eye contact, I find it almost impossible to look someone in the eye and carry on a conversation at the same time.
Yet, avoiding eye contact is not socially acceptable. You can be perceived as rude, disinterested and as not paying attention, something that could not be further from the truth. I have learned to fake eye contact by looking at a person’s forehead. This approach allows me to focus on the conversation, while giving the impression to the person I am engaging with that I am looking them in the eye.
MYTH: Having Asperger’s Is No Big Deal
Truth: In many ways, Asperger’s is an invisible disorder, especially in girls that are experts at masking their autistic traits. However, being autistic is extremely challenging. Since we have significant difficulties with social interactions, when interacting with others we are performing and focusing on ensuring that we follow social norms and conventions. Yet, trying to fit in and trying to follow all the social rules and expectations is exhausting and stressful.
Most people are also unaware of the physical and psychological difficulties that people with Asperger’s face on a daily basis. Most of us are very sensitive to touch, noise, lights, smells, tastes and textures. For example, I have a sensory processing disorder that significantly amplifies pain. This makes it difficult to do everyday things, such as returning a high five or sitting for an extended period of time.
Most people with Asperger’s also suffer from anxiety, phobias, rapid-thinking and chronic fatigue. The anxiety can be crippling. For example, I am petrified of going to the school cafeteria because it is very loud and crowded and full of energetic kids.
Asperger’s is a lifelong condition that will always be an integral part of who we are. However, with the right understanding and support it does not have to define us.
MYTH: Experts Understand Asperger’s In Girls
Truth: Experts still have a lot to learn about Autism. Although people with Autism share some similar traits, no two people are alike. The degree and severity of Autistic traits varies from person to person. This is also made more difficult by the fact that Asperger’s is a comorbid condition. Most people with Asperger’s also have another condition (for example, dyslexia, dyspraxia and/or ADHD).
Very little is known about girls with Asperger’s because experts have minimal experience, if any experience, with girls with Asperger’s. Most of the research on Autism has been conducted on males. As a result, experts have limited training and education, limited resources and little support on girls with Asperger’s.
MYTH: An Effective Diagnosis Tool Exists For Girls With Asperger’s
Truth: There is no blood test or DNA test to diagnose Asperger’s. No one knows what causes Asperger’s or whether Asperger’s is actually a condition (and not just a different way of looking at the world).
The diagnostic tools, such as surveys, are based on male-dominant Asperger’s traits that do not take into account how the female brain works and do not recognize that the female’s role in society differs from the male role. Diagnosis is largely based on relatives’ observations and individual case history, and is determined by professionals who often do not understand the female traits of the syndrome. As a result, many girls with Asperger’s will go undiagnosed.
MYTH: Girls With Asperger’s Don’t Make Good Friends
Truth: Girls with Asperger’s are all different. Just like everyone else, we have our own quirks and idiosyncrasies. Many girls with Asperger’s are known for their loyalty, kindness, honesty, compassion, integrity, hard work, ethics, intelligence and creativity. Girls with Asperger’s, like anyone, have the capacity to make fantastic friends, as long as we are treated with respect, love, understanding and compassion.
MYTH: People With Asperger’s Are Like a Film or TV Character
Truth: Many people form their understanding of what an autistic person is like on how a film or TV character with Asperger’s is portrayed. However, many of these film and TV characters are based on stereotypes and are mostly used for comedic effect. For example, Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory is a brilliant physicist with impaired social skills that is the source of most of the show’s jokes.
Although more films and TV shows are featuring characters with Autism, which is helping to mainstream the condition, there is a danger that the general public will think of people with Asperger’s in a very narrow, one dimensional and stereotypical way. We are not all eccentric chess, math or physicists with photographic memories and off the scale IQs. Moreover, most of the film and TV characters with Asperger’s are male, perpetuating the myth that very few females have Asperger’s.