I’ve been planning to write about gender and autism for a while now. Months ago, I wrote a personal reflection piece. It got two emphatic thumbs down in beta, so I let it languish in my drafts folder. Then, after some feedback from commenters here, I decided I would write a more informative companion post as context for the personal reflections, but that never happened. Then I cannibalized the personal reflections piece for something I was invited to submit to an anthology, which took me weeks to write because apparently everything takes me weeks to write lately.
Which left me still wanting to write about gender and autism here. As a first attempt, I’ve surveyed some of the ideas that people have put forth about gender and autism over the years, starting with Asperger himself.
Note: I’ve linked to a bunch of articles in this post, many of which I don’t agree with. However,I want to share the background information that I used so you can make your own decisions. Also, most references here are to binary gender and gender norms because that is the way most of the research is framed.
The Original Gender Link
In his paper describing his case studies, Hans Asperger hypothesized that autism must be a sex-limited or sex-linked condition because he had only observed it in boys. However, he also noted that some mothers of boys at his clinic who had autistic traits, which he found puzzling given the lack of girls who fit his model. His explanation for why there might be autistic women but not autistic girls was to suggest that autistic traits develop in females only after puberty.
He went on to state that he’d studied over 200 additional autistic children and had concluded from his observations that the autistic personality is an extreme variant of male intelligence. It’s important to note here that Asperger’s model was developed based on case studies of 4 boys who had been referred to him for behavior problems in school. All of them were considered to be uneducable in the traditional school system, creating a very specific profile on which Asperger based his observations.
It’s interesting to contrast Asperger’s idea of male versus female intelligence with Simon Baron-Cohen’s male and female brain models. Asperger believed that females were better learners with a tendency toward concrete practical thinking and tidy methodical work. He thought that males, on the other hand, were naturally gifted with logical ability, abstraction, precise thinking and formulating, and were predisposed to excel at independent scientific investigation. Continue reading Gender and Autism: A Preliminary Survey Post