Ever since it was first discovered autism has always been more prevalent in men than women – or at least that`s what everybody believed until recently. But now it`s fairly common knowledge that autism simply presents differently in many women than it does in most men. Although the core elements around feelings and social skills are still the same, a lot of the outward signs will be different. For some reason, women also seem to be better at hiding their autism, and fitting in with the neuro-typical people around them – although this can take a huge toll on their mental health. Nowadays people talk about both the male criteria, and the female criteria. In itself this is a very positive thing as it will lead to a lot more women being diagnosed, and being able to access help, and improve their own quality of life. It also helps people to understand autism a lot more as it takes away the mystery of why it seemingly affects so many men, and so few women. The only problem I have with it is the terminology itself – male and female profiles. While there is no denying the majority of men present a certain way, and the majority of women in another way, this isn’t true of everybody. I know a lot of males who fit with what would be considered the female profile of autism, and there are women who fit the male profile. Even though most people in the autistic community probably know this, I do worry that some people may still remain undiagnosed because doctors, and professionals might simply be checking off things on the female profile, for example, and the individual might be a female who fits the typically male diagnostic profile – it is always important to remember how little the people who refer individuals for diagnosis actually know about autism – and I worry that giving them such a black and white criteria as a male and female profile will lead to trouble in the long-run. While it is important to make people aware of the different presentations of people on the spectrum, I think using more gender- neutral terminology might be better. Of course things like type 1 and type 2 have negative connotations – and they are the same terms used for diabetes, and other conditions – but perhaps they could just be called profile 1 and profile 2? It might not be that big a deal, I just worry that terminology sounding so gender- specific will alienate smaller groups of people, both male and female, who fall in to the opposite sexes profile.
One issue that occurs to me from a male point of view is that most men diagnosed with autism that fitted the female profile probably wouldn’t do anything to act on it. I know it might sound silly, but most men, especially younger men, would probably be annoyed if told they fitted a female profile for autism – whereas if they were told they fitted profile 2, they`d be fine. A lot of women might be annoyed if they were told they had a masculine presentation of autism – it`s not exactly the most flattering thing you could say to somebody.
Also, there is the issue of women who fit what is known as the female profile being so much better at masking their autism, and living seemingly neuro-typical lives, but at great personal cost. But what about men who fit the female profile? How many men could be out there living under the radar – struggling and getting by day to day, putting up a front, and suffering with depression or eating disorders due to the strain? Surely it would be easier for them to recognise what might be going on for them if they didn’t think these traits were exclusive to female autism?
The idea of recognising alternative profiles for autism, and diagnosing people who would have slipped under the radar, is of course a very positive thing, but I feel that a more gender- neutral approach may be best.
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