In June I took a speech class for college. I’ve been putting off this speech class for YEARS. However, I’m running out of basics to take, and I need to take speech for my psychology major. An advisor at my university suggested I take this class during the summer because it would be a small class and they knew I was so anxious about it. It turned out to be one of my favorite classes! I had to give an informative speech and I thought I would share that speech with you here. Enjoy!
What do you think of when you hear the word “autistic?” Do you think of an individual with a speech impediment or an adult who acts almost childlike? Do you think of the special education class who sat on the other side of the cafeteria and needed help feeding themselves?
These are the things that came to my mind when I was told I was autistic at the age of 25. When I was 4-years-old I was diagnosed with ADHD and spent many years in therapy. Although I struggled, I always followed the rules, was a people pleaser, and extremely passionate. I made sure not to bring attention to myself, and if I did it was because I was trying to make people laugh. I grew up feeling like I didn’t fit in and struggled making friends, I thought that was caused by low self-esteem brought on by my weight, poor mental health, and just a phase of being a hormonal teenager and the ADHD.
The truth is, most girls and women are misdiagnosed, go without a diagnosis for years, or may never be diagnosed. Researchers are still discovering why girls and women often slip through the cracks, but it is suspected that autism may present itself differently in the sexes. All early research was done on autistic males and the stereotypical findings have been used to diagnose and treat people on the spectrum. Most people did not even know that girls could be autistic until recent years.
To understand what it means to be autistic, we must first learn what autism is. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability and effects executive functioning. Autistics think differently, process senses differently, move differently, communicate differently, socialize differently, and may need help with daily living.
Autism is a spectrum and every person on the spectrum experiences autism differently. Although some may experience the same symptoms, all experiences are different and unique to each individual.
I will discuss with you symptoms of autism that often go undetected.
Social behaviors are unique to each person. For someone on the autism spectrum, socializing can be difficult. Because autistic people are stereotypically anti-social, it can be hard to detect autism in someone who appears to get by, or even thrive socially. Here are some signs of autism that often get overlooked.
We all know some pretty shy people. While shyness isn’t the only indicator of autism in females, it does seem to be one of the common traits that we share. Some people on the spectrum can appear to be excessively shy, avoid interactions where possible, and usually won’t make the first move. Sometimes our shyness gets interpreted as rudeness, which can make it hard to fit in and make friends.
Fitting in can be a hard thing to do, especially when you feel like an alien. I often want to make friends but have a difficult time fitting in and finding friends on my own. My husband says I “try too hard.” I can become overly social, butt into conversations and can seem obsessive. I’m either not social enough, or too social. I have no medium, and a lot of autistic people can relate to that.
In public I may seem as calm as a cucumber. Sometimes I go home and have what is called a meltdown. A meltdown can look like a temper tantrum. Meltdowns occur for a number of things- masking for too long, frustration for trying to fit in, sensory overstimulation, to name a few. Sometimes my meltdowns happen in public and it is very embarrassing.
The reason why girls often go undiagnosed is because they are used to masking. Masking is a defense mechanism that allows girls to blend in with the crowd. Girls will look at how their peers are dressing, talking, and their body language and will often mimic what they see so they aren’t seen as different. Think of a chameleon- a chameleon changes colors in order to blend in with its surroundings. Masking allows girls to hide the difficulties they’re experiencing.
Because most typical girls are “obsessed” about something, special interests are a trait that are overlooked in females on the spectrum. In autism, special interests are more than a hobby, they become ritualistic and obsessive. For instance, when I was younger my best friend and I were fans of Hilary Duff. She likes Hilary, but I was OBSESSED. I knew her birthday, her favorite color, I knew the address of her fathers ranch in Houston, I collected anything and everything that she put out, and even made my mom drive me an hour away to Target so I could purchase Stuff by Hilary Duff.
Everyone has a food they don’t like or a scent they would rather not smell. To people on the spectrum, a gross texture or a loud sound can throw off their entire day. Because girls are stereotypically thought of as “emotional” or “moody,” sensory sensitivities are oftentimes overlooked as just plain overreaction.
Mimicking speech, body language, and tone of voice is the most common reason that autistic girls are not diagnosed until later in life. Think of a chameleon changing colors to blend in with their environment. Autistics will focus more on mimicking your behavior instead of the actual conversation. This is part of masking.
This is something that gets me in trouble a lot. Autistics can have a hard time interpreting non-verbal cues such as body language, gesturing, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Often, I ask for clarification on what someone meant and my questioning can be interpreted as attacking someone’s character.
A stereotype of autism is that we’re emotionless. This could be far from the truth. We feel things so deeply which causes us to have odd reactions to events and interactions. When I am happy or excited or mad, I ugly cry. I also may not look like I am reacting at all to those same emotions because I’m analyzing and interpreting the situation.
In conclusion, autism looks different in everyone. Every single person is unique. There are many successful autistics and I plan on being one!