And that’s exactly why Katy from invisible i is opening up about her own story.
Katy explains that, in the past, people have questioned whether she actually had autism.
“[I got] a lot of comments saying ‘you’re not autistic, I don’t see any autistic traits’ [and] ‘you’re completely normal, you’re not autistic,’” she says.
For Katy, this felt like both a backhanded compliment and degrading. She explains that while people are complimenting her for conforming and fitting into society, they’re also implying that people on the autism spectrum can never be normal or fit in.
Katy puts these comments down to the fact that people are looking for symptoms that are widely portrayed and understood as “male-sided symptoms” — the ones that men and boys on the spectrum experience.
But, in actuality, women often have very different autistic traits.
“We as females and women on the spectrum experience completely different symptoms. They are ignored, they’re not understood, and they’re thrown to one side and, because of that, people then think ‘you’re not autistic because you’re not experiencing the “male” symptoms,’” Katy says.
One common symptom people tend to mix-up are those surrounding social skills.
A common belief is that in order to be on the spectrum you have to have really low social capacity, to be socially awkward, and to not enjoy social situations at all, Katy explains.
This is very much a trait found in males, but not in females.
Because women are socialized to be adept at social skills, Katy says, many women with autism are able to get by and adapt to seem like they’re not struggling in social settings.
Katy says that she’s constantly acting and putting on a show when she’s in social situations, and people usually can’t tell that she’s faking it.
People are also often looking for that one “special interest” — a trait that often means forming an intense, passionate interest about one thing or a few things and learning everything about that topic.
Once again, this is a very male oriented-trait, and one that females don’t tend to experience, Kat explains.
If, however, a woman does have a special interest, these may be viewed as more “age-appropriate or typically ‘girly,’” so people don’t question it.
The biggest challenge women with autism face, Katy explains, is that they’re diagnosed with autism because of their mental health problems, as opposed to their autistic traits.
“We’re diagnosed after experiencing a ton of mental health problems,” she explains.
This, however, is not the case for males.
“Whereas boys are diagnosed because of their autistic traits, females are diagnosed because of the toll that being autistic takes on their mental health,” Katy adds.
By speaking out as a woman with autism herself, Katy is hoping to push back against the scripts that hold women with autism back. Using her voice and her platform, she’s creating visibility for a community that’s too often left out of the conversation.
Alaina Leary is an editor, social media manager, and writer from Boston, Massachusetts. She’s currently the assistant editor of Equally Wed Magazine and a social media editor for the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books.