You all….. This article!!! I feel like it’s a bit of the Holy Grail! Of talking about the understanding and misconceptions of Autism and Girls……
Let me explain - as the Mom of two very wonderful, very verbal, very intelligent girls, who also happen to be neurodiverse and one who fits the criteria for an autism diagnosis, we have been living a misunderstood, in the shadow margins, kind of experience. The talk, understanding, and study of autism has been pre-dominantly focused on the verbal and social competence (or lack there of) of boys. Yet, as girls and women, there are hundreds who grow and live through the range of spectrum deficits, who suffer.
Both as a parent and as a woman, I have been lobbed with judgements of being “too intense,” “overly worried” “uncoordinated,” “too sensitive” “really quirky” “undisciplined” or “unorganized” by well intended professionals, family, and friends, who assume that if I would just get it together, everything would get better. Worst of all, these are judgements that I have fought throwing on myself. And yet the reality is that my neurodiverse wiring, my white brain matter literally stands in the way of being able to “just get it together” My neurodiverse experience is the reason for my difference and not a lack of personal care, faith, or morality. And this article explains some of the why….. [I am using some generalization here for myself, as I do not have a specific MRI of my brain or a specific neurodevelopmental diagnosis. But I don’t believe it is a far stretch, as I can often identify with some of the differences and challenges that my daughters do have.]
My girls and I can talk. We are verbal. In fact, our verbal abilities are some of our strongest gifts - and yet, the deficits of Autism - the CORE, NONVERBAL COGNITIVE deficits of of spectrum experiences have layered our experience with frequent misunderstanding, missed opportunity, high anxiety, accidents, injury, and just plain stress and isolation. I’m speaking broadly, in wide strokes about our experience - but consider: how would life be different, especially for those who struggle with Cognitive, Non-Verbal Impairments if we did not assume that WORDS were the only sign of a person’s ability and experience?
Think about your assumption about WORDS….. If someone is verbal, if he or she knows and uses words, we most often make many assumptions. We assume that if one is verbally able, she is intelligent, can solve problems, can ask or advocate for what she needs, and can successfully function in the world around her. And yet, WORDS are only words…. They are the icing on the cake, so to speak, of neurological capabilities. They are what our bodies can take in through our ears and hearing and heavily rely on to determine some of what is going on in another’s brain and experience. Just because a girl can read and tell you about the chemical structures and nutritional benefits of milk, does not mean that she can safely or successfully walk to the kitchen refridgerator and pour and drink a glass of milk. Though most often when we hear someone using words to describe something of that complexity, we assume that the verbal skills and the academic intellect are the same maturity and capability as the whole picture of human development. But then, when you are the person who repeatedly spills the milk when pouring it, or leaves the open milk container on the counter and forgets to put it away, or are the parent who pleads at her daughter in frustration to “stop spilling the milk!” how do you think this might make your life? Your experience?
The IRONY that I am attempting to use a blog with WORDS to explain this concept is not lost on me. With my WORDS, I am trying to explain what a female on the neurodiverse spectrum is likely to struggle with. Through words, I want to point us away from the very concept of words and langauage to the other parts of our human experience - the core, non-verbal experience. The Core, Non-Verbal Cognitive deficits that an Autism diagnosis encompasses are foundational and profound to experience. One’s Sensory Processing, Executive Functioning, and Motor Skills are at the heart of her her ability to interact with her environment.
The intersection and integration of the multiple, cognitively experienced and regulated domains are the foundational bricks to one’s reality. The words we use are just the bridge that connect to each other’s realities. I believe that females with autism, often struggle less with words, and more with the underlying foundational “bricks” of experience. So asking a girl who is on the spectrum to just “get it together” or work harder, with out the appropriate understanding and accommodations is just plain impossible. My hope is that this article and blog post are just two more voices added to the expanding conversation and understanding of females, autism and neurodiversity. We must look beyond the words to the mind and heart of the females experience to uncover and understand the core of the matter - to invite more girls, women, and families on the Autism, Neurodiverse Spectrum, to the table.
What do you think about Girls, and Words, and Autism?
Melinda is a recovering "normal" seeker, who is often distracted by unexpected moments of nature's beauty or questioning children