I used to think that the notion of gendered autism made sense. The original model for the diagnostic process of autism is rooted in a very specific definition geared towards diagnosing white, straight, cisgender males. But, this model leaves so many autistic people to be misdiagnosed or go undiagnosed completely, if they don’t fit the narrow definition of the original model.
After years of people upholding the notion that autism was a boy’s diagnosis, there was eventually a push to further investigate how autism manifests in girls and women, leading many to the idea that autism can present differently when people are socialized in different ways. This led myself and many others to believe there must automatically be a female autism and a male autism.
In fact, I supported this concept so heavily, that I completed my undergraduate thesis on the topic of female autism, and what it meant to be an autistic female in relation to the diagnostic process. As someone who was AFAB and socialized as a female, this seemingly made sense to me. In a society that tends to subscribe to a gender binary, societal expectations are often different for males than females.
I didn’t pause long enough to really let this idea sink in, I just ran with it. I didn’t consider how this binary version of autism completely fails to include the many people who fall outside of the gender binary. However, I think a big part of growing as humans is recognizing when we’ve outgrown an idea that may be incorrect or harmful and correcting ourselves as we move forward.
Over time, I’ve done a lot of self-reflection and realized that I don’t even fit neatly into the gender binary, just as so many autistics don’t. A large number of autistic people, greater than that of neurotypical people, are gender non-conforming or gender diverse. After doing a lot of soul searching and coming to the realization that I am, in fact, genderqueer, suddenly this idea of female autism made less and less sense to me. I found myself asking, if I’ve always been autistic, once upon a time thinking I was a female autistic, and now I don’t identify that way, then where do I fit?
Even those autistic people who may not be gender non-conforming may still not fit into the stereotypical binary system of male and female autism. I see autistic people saying all the time that, while they identify as female, they seem to fit the more stereotypically male autism profile, or vice versa. When it comes down to it, people are so much more complex than being able to stuff ourselves into these neat little boxes, and autism makes things that much more complex.
I no longer stand by the concept of a male and female autism. It discounts so many of us. Autism can’t possibly fit into a binary system. It’s much too varied. Autism presents differently from person to person, and often from day to day, for that matter. No two autistic people are alike, and just because certain traits tend to be present among those of a certain gender doesn’t mean only the people who identify with that gender can have those traits. Autistic people don’t display male autism or female autism, we’re just autistic.
It can be said that varied autistic presentations are expected across all genders, without having to separate traits according to gender. There are so many ways to describe the autistic experience without having to label those experiences according to a binary. We should continue to forge ahead with expanding our descriptions of autistic people of all genders.