The challenge of being an autistic woman

photo credit; Gemma from Hello It’s Gemma

Being autistic can be difficult. I think being an autistic woman comes with particular challenges. The main reason is that societies expectations are different for women than they are for men. Despite big, positive changes in how gender is viewed there’s still a long way to go. Unfortunately we still live in a world where there are ‘girl colours’ and ‘boy colours’, where little girls are given dolls and princess dresses, and little boys encouraged to play with train sets, nerf guns and tools. My son is in the minority in his ballet class, and girls are fewer in their local children’s football teams.

This expectations goes beyond the hobbies we should partake in, and the clothing we should wear. Women are expected to have good social skills, when a man is different socially he can be seen as a beloved eccentric. When a woman is different at best she will be the subject of gossip at worst she can end up being bullied and ostracised. So for an autistic woman struggling to understand how she is expected to behave  the consequences can be very upsetting.

Women are commended for being patient, caring, gentle and diplomatic. Consider what it means to be behaving like ‘a lady’. As an autistic woman these qualities are not my strong suit. I am dominant, honest, loud and quick to act. All qualities which I believe would be more easily tolerated, admired even, if I were a man.

I’ve been bullied, laughed about and excluded for my lack of social skills, which as a women is potentially a greater cause of distress than it might have been for a man. I care, deeply about fitting in, because I’ve been taught as a woman that fitting in, being socially accepted is a measure of success.

Typically when men get together the conversation revolves around a hobby or interest, be that music, sport, or comic books. When women gather they often discuss social dynamics (who did what, who said what) or family, as an autistic woman these conversations are a minefield. It’s not as simple as being honest about the situation being discussed, because saying the wrong thing can land you in hot water, or lead to you becoming the subject of gossip. No, what’s actually happening is a game, to which we haven’t been told the rules but we’re expected to play perfectly or in all likelihood another invite to that social group won’t be forthcoming.

It’s no wonder that I spent so much time and energy trying really hard to ‘get it right’. Trying to find the secret rules to the social games that I kept playing and losing. Shedding bitter tears as another hurtful attitude left me feeling rejected and less than.

I have hope that things are changing, that one day ,as the world become more and more accepting of difference, being honest about being an autistic woman will lead to acceptance and compassion. That people will look beyond our differences and see our strengths and appreciate us for them. I look forward to a time when if I get it wrong I’m able to move forward more equipped for future experiences, rather than left with my self esteem shattered unable to see the best in myself.

Because I am an autistic woman and I am proud of who I am.