A guy I know once described the autism spectrum (which he’s on, by the way) as “a total sausage fest”. And I know what he means; I co-run a support group for young adults with autism, and in an average meeting, about 80-90% of the attendants are male.
The true ratio of male to female within the autism spectrum is a mystery. Estimates range from 2:1 to 16:1, but we don’t even know for sure that there are more men than women with autism. It could just be that the diagnostic criteria are designed around how the condition presents in men, and that there are vast numbers of undiagnosed autistic women flying under the radar.
Even the stereotypical image of the “autistic person” is of a male. (And generally a preteen child, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms – those giant sand worms from that stroke-inducingly awful Dune movie)
I’ve heard a couple of theories on this issue. One is that women on the spectrum are more adept at observing and imitating their non-autistic peers. Another is that in our society, women are expected to be more passive and not initiate social contact, and it is more acceptable for them to be shy, so their autism does not stand out from social norms as much as it does with men, who are expected to be assertive and take the initiative.
Okay, that was my sordid past as a Sociology major showing through; I’ll try to keep this less dry than that basement full of tinder dry scrolls in Gondor that Gandalf goes into with a massive flaming torch.
I know several women on the autism spectrum. And, just like the guys I know on the spectrum, they are remarkably diverse. In some, it’s barely noticeable at all. In others, it’s more pronounced. In my limited experience they do stand out less than their male counterparts, and I am a believer in the theory that it is more common in women than it seems.
If true, this is clearly an issue that needs addressing; autism can bring with it certain challenges, and the possibility that millions of women are facing these challenges without support is concerning to say the least.
If you’re a woman on the autism spectrum, I’d love to hear your opinion on this issue in the comments section. 🙂