Tag Archives: gender differences

Gender and Autism: A Preliminary Survey Post

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

I Think I Might Be Autistic (Part 4)

This is the 4th part in an ongoing series about being diagnosed as autistic at the age of 42.

Mourning the Loss

Eventually reality set in. I’m autistic. 

Not the happy “Yay! I’m different! I’m unique! I’m special!” autistic.

More like “Holy crap . . . I’m defective . . disabled . . . challenged . . . never going to get any better” autistic.

This was when the mourning began. Once the bright shiny new this-explains-everything stage wore off, I started thinking about the other side of being autistic. I wasn’t going to “outgrow” my social awkwardness. I wasn’t going to wake up one day and suddenly have a balanced emotional life. The challenges I faced weren’t imagined and they weren’t going to magically disappear. They were with me for life.

This is me. This is always going to be me. Forever.

Talk about hard realizations.

The questions that arose were mostly  variations of “how would my life have been different if I wasn’t autistic?” As I tried to envision taking away this or that autistic part of me, it became obvious that Asperger’s was responsible for a lot more than what makes me weird. It’s responsible for many of my strengths, too. Take it away and I’m no longer me.

That person I was mourning? She doesn’t exist.

Mourning the Loss

  • Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your anger, disappointment, sadness or other negative feelings.
  • Recognize your strengths along with your weaknesses.
  • You’ve always been autistic and always will be. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t work on learning social skills, developing coping mechanisms or changing your lifestyle/environment in ways that support you.


Healing the Child (or Younger Self)

Growing up undiagnosed is hard. There is a lot of pain that comes from knowing that you’re different but not knowing why. Asperger’s gave me an explanation, but more importantly it gave me a starting point for healing that scared, confused kid inside me.

As I worked back through the more difficult aspects of my childhood, I felt like I was somehow mothering my younger self–revisiting each moment, looking at it in a new light and telling that younger version of me that it wasn’t my fault, that I’d done the best I could, that to expect more from me in the absence of support would have been unreasonable.

I wasn’t “obviously” autistic as a child–girls manifest ASD traits differently than boys in many cases and Asperger’s didn’t exist as a diagnosis in the 1970s.

I was, however, a handful. I was overly smart, easily bored, very curious and constantly in motion. Consequently, I got a lot of guidance from adults on how to behave properly. This reined in my more problematic behaviors, but it also made me feel like I was forever in danger of doing something “wrong,” especially when I “wasn’t trying hard enough.”

Being able to look back at my childhood and see that my behaviors were a result of my brain chemistry and not a result of “not being good enough” allowed me to begin to heal some of those lingering insecurities.

Learning more about Asperger’s helped me understand that I was bullied not because I was weird, but because I was socially inept. Reading about selective mutism gave me an explanation for my largely silent elementary school years–the ones where I never spoke in class unless forced to. Finding information about how ASDs manifest in girls shed light on why I had so much trouble maintaining friendships.

Each new bit of information absolved me of some perceived failure as a child and helped me begin healing some very old wounds.


  • Learning more about Asperger’s/autism in children can help you understand challenges you faced in childhood.
  • As an adult, you can choose to forgive the people in your life who hurt you as a child.
  • It may help to imagine your adult self sharing your new information with your child self as a way to offer comfort or explanations for unhealed childhood wounds.
  • If you find yourself having distressing reactions that are difficult to cope with, consult with a mental health professional or a trusted friend/mentor for help.

Coming next: Self-Diagnosis or Professional Diagnosis

Taking the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) Test

This week for Take-a-Test Tuesday, I took the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) test. The AQ is used as a clinical screening instrument so in addition to taking the test, I read two of the studies that have been done to validate it. The write up that resulted is rather geeky.

The Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ) was developed by the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge and first published in 2001. While the test has “Autism Spectrum” in its title, it’s geared toward identifying adults with Asperger’s Syndrome. It has been tested on adults with normal intelligence who had been diagnosed with AS or HFA*. While the AQ isn’t considered a diagnostic instrument, the 2005 study referenced later in this post did recommend that it be used by family doctors/general practitioners to determine whether to refer an adult patient for an in-depth Asperger’s Syndrome evaluation.

The AQ is composed of 50 short questions, 10 each on:

  • social skills
  • attention switching
  • attention to detail
  • communication
  • imagination

The 2001 study that was used to develop the AQ has some interesting data about the validity of the individual questions. If you’ve always disagreed with the idea that autistics lack imagination or can’t see the point of “the phone number question” on the AQ, you might find the individual item analysis revealing. Go take a look for yourself (Table IV, especially items 3, 8, and 29).

I’ll spare everyone else the gruesome details.

Pros and Cons of the AQ


  • Short, can be taken quickly
  • Self-scoring
  • Includes questions phrased as both preferences and perceived competencies
  • Clinically tested (statistical data available on sensitivity, specificity, test-retest reliability, internal consistency, etc.)
  • Adult, adolescent and child versions are available


  • Possible gender bias
  • Single score outcome
  • Choice of questions may be biased toward creator’s theory of autism
  • No subscale scores
  • Uncertainty regarding what a mid-range score might mean due to multiple recommended cutoff scores

Taking the Test

There are many places that you can take the test online. I took it at Wired.com. To get started, read the questions and choose one of the four answers for each. Don’t spend too much time agonizing over the slightly or definitely wording. The scoring is based on your choice of agree or disagree with no weight given to how strongly you feel it.

When you’ve answered all of the questions, click the “Calculate Score” button to get your AQ score. You’ll see your score on the next page along with a list of which items you scored positively on. Each positive item (i.e. item that indicates an autistic trait) equals one point, so a higher score indicates the presence of more autistic traits.

Scoring the Test

The possible scoring range is 0-50. The 2001 study found that 80% of people with Asperger’s who took the test scored 32 or higher. A subsequent 2005 study proposed a cutoff score of 26 be used when screening adults for Asperger’s in a clinical setting. The second study found that of 100 people who completed the AQ, the test correctly classified 83% of them as having Asperger’s or not. The 2005 study states that using the higher score of 32 as the cutoff would minimize false positives, so there really isn’t a clear consensus on how useful the midrange scores are.

Here is a graph comparing the scores of people with Asperger’s to the scores of neurotypical controls in the 2001 study:

From “The Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ): Evidence from Asperger Syndrome/High-Functioning Autism, Males and Females, Scientists and Mathematicians” by S. Baron-Cohen et. al.

The graph shows a fairly clear difference in the distribution of scores between those with Asperger’s/HFA and the control group. However, it also shows some overlap in the middle of the scoring range. Some people who were clinically diagnosed with Asperger’s/HFA scored in the teens, well below the cutoff of 32, and some neurotypical people scored in the thirties.

The original study also has some interesting outcomes for gender. In the AS/HFA group, the mean score for women was higher than for men, while in the control group, the reverse was true. In fact, the mean score for women with Asperger’s was 38.1 (vs. 35.1 for males) while not a single woman in the control group scored above 33 (highest score for male controls was 37).

Oh yeah, my score was 41.

The Bottom Line

Unless you score at one extreme or the other, you may find this test raises more questions for you than it answers.


*I used HFA (High Functioning Autism) throughout this post because it was used in the 2001 study to describe the diagnosis of some of the study participants.

When Being a Good Girl is Bad for You

Increasingly, experts are realizing that Asperger’s in girls looks different from Asperger’s in boys. Some thoughts on what that means for girls on the spectrum . . .

I was raised to be a good girl. This meant, above all, being seen and not heard. Don’t bother the adults. Don’t make waves.

And this was mostly fine with me. As a child, I spent hours and hours alone. Some of my happiest memories involve going on long bike rides, exploring in the woods, and playing games in my room, all by myself. I remember quite a few fiercely contested games of Risk and Monopoly that pitted me against myself.

My parents never questioned what I did for hours in my room with the door closed. If I disappeared for the afternoon into the woods behind our house, their only concern was that I be home by five-thirty for dinner.

I don’t know what would have happened if I came home at six. I was a good girl and good girls followed the rules.

But the problem with being the good girl, especially if you’re a young undiagnosed aspie, is that good girls are invisible. Aspie boys tend to act out. They have problems with anger management. They’re defiant and oppositional. They’re not team players. They shrink away from competition and refuse to follow the rules.

Years ago these boys got slapped with labels like “juvenile delinquent” and “behavior problem.” Today, out of every ten children diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, eight will be boys and two will be girls.

The big question raised by this disparity is: are boys more likely to be aspies or are they just more likely to get diagnosed because their symptoms tend to fit the classic manifestation of AS?  Continue reading When Being a Good Girl is Bad for You

one of these things doesn’t belong here

an introductions of sorts . . .

When I was in elementary school, my younger sister used to watch Sesame Street. At 7 or 8, I felt too grown-up for a show about talking puppets but I secretly loved the “one of these things doesn’t belong here” game.

Once on each show, someone would sing:

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

If you’ve never seen it, here’s an example:  Continue reading one of these things doesn’t belong here