TW: sexual harassment/abuse, ableism, sterilisation, eugenics, mental health, suicide
Misogyny largely affects autistic women and girls. From going undiagnosed, to harassment, mental illness and abuse, we cannot ignore this any longer.
The male autistic experience is vastly different from the female autistic experience. As girls we are more likely to go undiagnosed, by the age of 6 a study by The National Autistic Society shows that 25% of autistic boys are diagnosed in comparison with only 8% of girls. This then rises to 52% of boys and 21% of girls by the age of 11 (which still leaves space for a considerable gender gap).
This may be down to the female autistic phenotype: how diagnostic criteria is designed to suit boys and not girls. The earliest research on autism was conducted on boys and men. This provided the foundation for autism research and knowledge today, therefore putting girls at a disadvantage.
However, it is not just the female autistic phenotype that girls must surpass in order to be diagnosed. For centuries autism has been viewed as a ‘male’ condition, leading to male stereotypes being developed. This means that doctors are more likely to diagnose girls with mental illnesses before autism. From my own experience it took 15 therapists and 11 years for a diagnosis.
As well as this, autistic girls are likely to develop anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses as a result of their misdiagnosis. One small scale study found that 23% of women admitted for anorexia also showed signs of undiagnosed autism. Currently, the lifespan of autistic people in the UK is in their 30s. This is largely as a result of suicide. The fact that so many autistic women and girls are being completely ignored in the medical field is shocking.
However, it isn’t just misdiagnosis that presents itself as a struggle for autistic women. We are also at higher risk of assault and abuse. A study of 4,500 people with autism/ADHDshowed that many of them had experienced sexual abuse during their childhood, this may be because we are viewed as vulnerable by others but also because we are less likely to notice when we are in dangerous situations. It was also found that women who have autism were 3 times as likely to experience sexual abuse than someone who does not have autism.
In another study it was also found that autistic girls are more likely to experience PTSD due to prevalent childhood abuse and victimisation.
Autistic girls around the world still undergo forced sterilisation, a practice that has been ongoing throughout history and the eugenics movement. In Australia parents are still allowed to decide to sterilise their disabled child, the child herself is given no choice. The amount of forced sterilisation in Australia is overwhelmingly towards females with intellectual disabilities. Too many people feel that because we are disabled, we don’t have a right to reproduction.
What can we do?
We can educate ourselves and others (especially those in the medical/educational fields) on girls and women who have autism, we must stop depending on stereotypes of autism and most importantly we must look out for autistic girls and communicate with them, awareness is key.
Feminism is the liberation of all women and it is important that we recognise what autistic and disabled women go through.
My name is Sophie, I am a 17 year old autistic girl who loves to write. I am an intersectional feminist with a large focus on disability activism and more specifically how we can support disabled women everywhere. If you are interested in my writing my Instagram is @sophiejay.s