AWE is a free worldwide initiative and resource developed for autistic women and those interested in autistic women. It is a project that is nurtured by its founder, Michelle Dorothy Riksman.
Do you know any autistic women?
If you answer no, chances are you do.
Autism in females is misunderstood.
Picture this: A woman drops onto a couch and arches forward, letting out a lung full of air with immense relief. She discovers that her brain is wired differently from birth. She discovers that she perceives, receives, and processes all external stimuli and information differently. She finally has an accurate understanding of why childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and continuing maturity have never changed any of her differences. So then begins a profound process of integration of her life from all perspectives. That woman is me. On Thursday, the 19th of February, 2015 at 1.30 pm, I received an official diagnosis of autism. I was thirty-eight years old.
Every autistic female deserves to hear the words I did that day:
“You’ll never need to ask that question again.”
Many women experience a sense of relief when they are told they are on the autism spectrum, because our enduring inquiry into oneself has, at last, a place. The social whys have a place; the sensory whys have a place; our learning differences have a place, our pervasive struggles with employment have a place, and so on. Autism is, after all, lifelong. Autism doesn't just disappear when we reach puberty, adulthood, menopause, or at any other point in our lives. It comes with us, thankfully. Otherwise, we wouldn't be who we are. Autism is a normal, everyday state of being for those of us who are autistic. No-one can cause autism in another person. Autism is not an affliction or something to be feared, nor is it something to be cured. Being autistic does not automatically mean we lack intellectual ability. The reverse is more often true. Being autistic does not mean we are inferior to another, or superior to another. Autism is a neurological difference, an intrinsic part of an individual, and although functioning levels can vary greatly, only autistic people are on the autism spectrum.
When it comes to women and autism, the deprivation of a diagnosis, and I include the absence of an accurate diagnosis, is far from ideal. Autistic women have been particularly misunderstood due to our proficient masking abilities. Unlike many of our autistic male counterparts, I believe that autistic females are more adept at walking through life, hiding in plain sight. Masking may be one of the most significant reasons why autistic females have been overlooked and are, therefore, diagnosed later in life, if at all.
This is a personal question. For me, the resounding answer is “Yes.” For others, the answer may be more problematic. For instance, there may be blockers to obtaining a formal diagnosis, such as cost, opportunity, and finding the right expert. For others, receiving a diagnosis of autism as an adult can be a distressing event, as a deep re-processing of one's life takes place. For some, a grieving period may follow. It can be difficult to confront the question, "If I had been diagnosed earlier, would my life be different?"
In my experience, a confirmation of autism can be invaluable in a woman’s life, at any age. Frequently, the older a woman is, the more invaluable the knowledge can be. Such validation can help her to be less self-critical and provide her with wanted connections to networks of other autistic women. She finds a sense of belonging. The long-awaited knowledge can offer a woman self-leniency, and self-compassion, and self-understanding like never before. She can be relieved from the burden of keeping her struggles in the dark. With clarity around why she is who she is, having her autism confirmed can help her say yes to life moving forward.
There are also practical advantages to pursuing a formal diagnosis later in life. It can enable much easier access to beneficial services. These services can assist women to position themselves better to plan for a more secure future.
AWE is an initiative and resource that has been developed to showcase and to share the creativity, special interests, and stories of autistic women everywhere. In doing so, I wish to not only keep autistic women connected, but to make us more visible to the non-autistic community, to generate more understanding of female Autism, and to express our diversity. The autistic population, as with the non-autistic population, is varied. In the end, all human beings, autistic or not, crave connection, validation, understanding - and life is for living, together.
AWE invites the non-autistic community, parents, and professionals alike, into the lives of females on the autism spectrum. The various circumstances that can lead girls and women to a diagnosis bring important insights into autism as it presents in females. AWE provides the opportunity for autistic women to share our lived experience of autism. We are all individuals, and each story deserves to be known.
Good news like that is never unnecessary or too late.
AWE is a free worldwide initiative & resource funded only by my compassion for autistic women.
Is a formal diagnosis of autism later in life worth it?
Michelle Dorothy Riksman.