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Asperger's Syndrome in women: why Aspie women are the “invisible” ones

Many women don't know they have Asperger's Syndromeone mild form of autism which forces them, for example, into a life full of anxieties, habits that are difficult to change and difficulties in socializing. They don't know why they have it Diagnosing the syndrome among the female gender is complex: capable of adapting and hiding their problems, women are not always able to understand the real reason for their daily struggles, so they underestimate them and society ignores them.

This often translates to la discovery of the syndrome only in adulthood. As in the case of Marguerite, employed in an important multinational company and who tries in vain to lead a normal life: she has a boyfriend and friends, but prefers not to go out or spend the afternoons alone in the park. The time will come for her to face her problems and she will discover that she is not out of her mind

esta”, as it is often defined. He will understand that he simply has a different way of approaching the world. A new life will finally begin for her.

The Invisible Difference by Julie Dachez and Mademoiselle Caroline

Who is Marguerite? She is the alter ego of Julie Dachez, researcher in social psychology and author of the graphic novel “The invisible difference” (Lswr Editions), an autobiographical work that has been ranked among the most read books in France for three years, with illustrations by Mademoiselle Caroline. The target? Show just how difficult it is to diagnose the syndrome among women and encourage them to look for a reason for their daily problems.

Asperger's syndrome: let's take stock

From a clinical point of view, Asperger's Syndrome is a particular form of autism. The autism spectrum it affects 1 in 100 people in the world (regardless of country). The sex ratio is said to be 1 autistic girl for every 4 boys, but this relationship is controversial because autism is more difficult to detect in girls.

The Main characteristics They are the following:

  • Social and communication difficulties: for example, people with autism may have difficulty understanding irony, implicit meaning, and double meanings. Some do not communicate through language.
  • Specific interests: they are the passions of people with autism, in which they invest a lot of time and energy, sometimes to the point of becoming experts.
  • Repetitive behaviors, like rocking or flapping. These are self-stimulating behaviors that help the person calm down.
  • Sensory features: Autistic people often have hyper- or hyposensory, which means they can be more or less sensitive in different sensory areas. They are often very sensitive to noise. They can also be sensitive to light or some forms of contact, for example.
Autism and neurodiversity: let's reverse the perception

This concept of autism just described it derives from psychiatry and is therefore pathologizing. It is important to note that this is a way of looking at autism that focuses on deficits and is therefore reductive. Thinking patterns like the neurodiversity they see autism as a peculiarity of functioning, with its strengths and weaknesses. Autistic functioning is seen as part of human diversity, without being considered inferior to non-autistic functioning (e.g. as in biodiversity: an elephant and a butterfly are part of biodiversity, one is not better than the other). It is also clear that the difficulties associated with autistic functioning can lead to disability when the environment is not suitable. For this reason, it is necessary and urgent to act to make society more inclusive.

Why are Asperger women considered “invisible”?

«Female people are difficult to diagnose due to the lack of knowledge of their specific characteristics, which do not appear exactly like those of males, more widely described and more easily recognisable. Furthermore, they are able to adapt and camouflage themselves, thanks to their greater capacity for emotional and cognitive empathy. This makes them invisible – they write in the preface of the volume Carole Tardif, professor of psychology of typical and atypical development, e Bruno Gepner, psychologist and psychiatrist for Asperger children and adults – Other Asperger women, however, they are invisible because they cannot adapt. They prefer to remain alone so as not to expose themselves to the gaze of others, to frustration and suffering.”

Furthermore, women tend to disguise their behavior more: «This could be related to gender socialization: Women are encouraged from an early age to be warm, affable, sociable and caring, and women with autism are no exception – she explains Dachez – The consequences of this camouflage are serious: camouflage leads to tiredness and research shows that camouflage is associated to worse mental health (depression, anxiety) in autistic people. People with autism blend in to be better accepted in society (for example in a professional context), but it is clear that the price to pay is high.”

An illustration from the book The Invisible Difference

An illustration from the book The invisible difference (Lswr Editions)

The story of Julie Dachez, aka Marguerite

Marguerite is Julie's alter ego: «I was 27 years old when I was diagnosed (today he is 39, ed.). The comic was released in 2016 in France. Since then, I have rethought my life in a way that suits me and respects the way I operate, and now I am very well surrounded by people who are more atypical than the other. So I no longer feel particularly different”, explains the author.

«After my diagnosis I tried to raise public awareness about autism in several ways: a blog, a Youtube channel, a comic and then another book entitled “Dans ta bulle!”. For me it was important raise awareness of the more subtle forms of autism, which we didn't hear much about at the time. Talking about my story, making sure that it could be useful to other people, gave me a lot of strength and allowed me to make sense of everything I had been through.”

A transition that took her a few years, before coming out “in the open”: «I delayed speaking on my own behalf because I was well aware that I would never go back after that – explains Dachez – I did it because it seemed like a militant act to me. The problem isn't that I'm autistic, there's nothing to be ashamed of. The problem is the way autistic people are stigmatized and excluded in our society. This is what we must fight against.”

First of all, talking about it, promoting awareness so that no other woman or person finds themselves alone or displaced when faced with a diagnosis: «In recent years, many have written to me. I was particularly touched by a mother who, when the comic came out, told me that her 12-year-old daughter adored Marguerite and slept with the book every night. She told me how important it was for her to feel represented and that when she finished the comic she exclaimed: “Marguerite is really me!”. I've heard this feedback many times since then, and I'm happy to hear it many women have been able to draw strength from it, and also to use this book to make themselves better understood by those around them.

That's why I posted it: to raise awareness of the more subtle forms of autism and to help people understand that being different is not a burden. I believe it is urgent to broaden our attention and, rather than trying to change the autistic person, think about how to make society more inclusive.

It would never occur to us, for example, to expect a person in a wheelchair to make an “effort” and start walking. We install ramps to make public places accessible. But in the case of invisible disabilities it is more complicated to make people understand, there is always a suspicion of illegitimacy that looms over people and we expect them to make an effort. Instead, for example, quiet hours could be programmed in supermarkets, without music and with dim lights, so that autistic people can shop in peace. This is the type of initiative that should be encouraged.”

More stories by Vanity Fair that might interest you are:

Autism, Agnese: «The love of my son Pietro taught me to dance on life»

Giulio, gifted, started high school at the age of 11

Source: Vanity Fair

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