Last week I had the fortune of hearing Professor Barry Carpenter talk at One Education’s 17th SEND Conference, where he led a workshop entitled ‘Girls and Autism: Flying under the radar’.
Barry has recently been involved with NASEN, contributing to their booklet ‘Girls and Autism; Flying under the radar’, which is a quick guide to supporting girls with autism spectrum conditions and is well worth a read. It made me think back to a blog I wrote last year called ‘Why do more boys have Autism?’ which was about the reasons why we perceive that more boys have autism compared to girls. His talk made me reflect about what, if anything, has changed.
Autism in the Media
There is definitely a higher media presence around girls and women and autism, including the recent addition of an autistic female character on Sesame Street and an increasing number of women who are being diagnosed as autistic in adulthood. Nicola Clark shared her experiences last August in The Guardian, wherein she describes her relief at receiving a diagnosis in her late 40s.
There was a conference called ‘The Big Shout’ in London this January, where professionals from around the world came together to share thoughts and ideas on this topic; Barry Carpenter and Dr Rona Tutt (another Keynote speaker at our conference last week) were speakers along with Carrie Grant who spoke of her experiences of having three girls, two of whom have been diagnosed with autism. After the conference, she shared her hopes that the voices of autistic girls and women will become better heard and understood by the healthcare and education systems, and in the wider world, in an opinion piece on the NAHT website.
Reflecting on what we know
Whilst considering what had changed over the last year, I came across this quote on the National Autistic Society's website:
Dr Judith Gould Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Director, The Lorna Wing Centre for Autism
Autism is more diverse than originally thought, with new ideas being put forward every day. In fact, it's a case of 'the more we know, the less we know', particularly in how gender affects individuals with autism.
At first, I found this quote frustrating as I like to have answers; but as I thought about it, I appreciated that it gets the debate going and providing opportunities to find answers about the gender differences and how best to support the children we work with.
During the last year, I have worked in a number of schools where there is an increasing awareness and diagnosis of girls with Autism, and this means that these children are being supported better in schools. This will hopefully prevent some of the difficulties undiagnosed girls in secondary schools are exhibiting at present (read more on this in my previous blog).
Whilst we have not reached a definitive answer, perhaps we never will, at least we are moving in the right direction.