De-centering the ‘male’ Autistic experience

By Katie Munday (they / them)

Historically, being Autistic was considered a male childhood experience, with boys more readily diagnosed than girls. This trend is still prevalent in many areas of autism research but thankfully the gap between male and female diagnosis and realisation is slowly closing. As is the access to diagnosis and realisation for transgender, non-binary and gender divergent individuals.

There have been many reasons why many girls and women have been overlooked for diagnosis including (but not limited to); systemic misogyny and transphobia, autism research which favours ‘male’ traits and cultural gender stereotypes.

Systemic misogyny and transphobia

Misogyny across medical systems, which upholds ideas of female ‘hysteria’ and over-emotionality, means women are more likely to be disbelieved or wrongly diagnosed with personality differences and mental health issues. These diagnosis can then cause access issues to Autistic identification.

Professionals are not seeing the very real connection between what would be considered ‘disorders’ (what I prefer to call embodied self-preservation) and Autistic experience, which often includes consistent trauma. So, even when females are diagnosed with personality differences they are often overlooked for also being Autistic.

Access to diagnosis is also difficult for transgender and gender divergent individuals who wish to transition medically. Often these people are left to choose between being supported with their Autistic diagnosis or gender affirmation, but very rarely are they given the opportunity for help with both. Unfortunately, Autistic people are still seen as children who do not understand gender and therefore are not ‘really’ transgender. This infantilsation denies Autistic people gender affirming healthcare and many forgo an autism diagnosis so they can get help with the more immediate need of living their authentic gender.

Many people turn up to gender identity health clinics because they are confused by their gender and need help untangling it all, some of us live in gender flux and fluidity and this confusion should never mean punishment. All gender experiences are relevant, and all people should have access to gender affirming and diagnostic healthcare, this means creating more support for people of colour, queer people, physically Disabled people and all other marginalised groups.

Autism research which favours ‘male’ traits

Across 70 years of autism research the most researched group of people have been young white males. This means that all criteria for diagnosis, and the supposed ‘support’ which comes with it, is based on ‘male’ behaviours. Anyone who does not present these traits are not considered Autistic and may be misdiagnosed with another form of neurological difference.

The very few Autistic people who fit the stereotype of Rain Main and Sheldon Cooper have the privilege of far fewer barriers to diagnosis. However, girls and women, transgender and non-binary folk and males who do not show these traits are often overlooked as we do not live up to the standard of male stereotyped Autistic traits.

This is further complicated for those of us who are people of colour, physically Disabled, Queer and trans because our social ‘difficulties’ are often understood as a common ‘impairment’ of our other marginalised identities. This is a glowing indictment of the racism, ableism and queerphobia within medical systems but also within places of education, work and anywhere else we are seen as being ‘problematic’ or ‘too much.’

These male stereotypes are based around white western ideals of behaviours; giving eye contact, staying still, keeping quiet, but ideas of ‘appropriate’ behaviour vary across different cultures. There are many indigenous cultures, for example, which deem eye contact as incredibly rude, but this is not accounted for in white western medicine.

Autism research has focused on male stereotypes for so long that the idea of a ‘female autism phenotype’ has arisen. Not only does this create even more barriers for those of us outside the binary but it also continues to other female Autists, favouring males as the ‘real’ Autistics. (I could, and probably will, write a piece on the ‘female phenotype’ but I lack the spoons to write about that particularly misogynistic, racist and transphobic idea at the moment).

Cultural gender stereotypes

Criteria for diagnosis, which favours males and is steeped in misogyny, are based on the undeniable inequality that all of us who aren’t cisgender male face.

Girls and women are often overlooked as Autistic as they often (strangely!) fit western female stereotypes. Many of them are either quiet: “she’s so shy!” or very talkative: “they’re quite the chatter box!” These vast differences in communication, confidence and the need to talk are both seen as inherently female: potential non-speaking or hyper-verbal traits are often considered as just a ‘girl thing’ and therefore often overlooked.

In many Western cultures, girls are kept young, virtuous and innocent for as long as possible. This can run parallel with the interests of Autistic people who often stay loyal to their hobbies for longer than their neurotypical peers. This is often misunderstood and pathologised as developmental regression but it is just the lack of fear we have about enjoying what we enjoy loudly and proudly!

Heteronormativity also plays a big part in gender stereotypes; girls are to grow into women who have children with a man and keep the household. Girls are explicitly and implicitly told that they are to grow up to be the main caregiver of children, do all the housework and most times squeeze in a full or part time job. Due to this many women are exhausted beyond measure; this is considered a cultural norm and does not consider neurological differences.

As we know, burnout between neurotypical people and Autistic people are vastly different, add in the overwhelming responsibilities placed upon women and we are sure to suffer poor mental health. Unfortunately, these cultural norms feed into misogynistic medical systems, which suggest that mums simply need to ‘rest more’ or pop a few Xanax and carry on exactly as they are. There never seems to be any understanding that this burnout is due to being Autistic, as well as living in a garbage heteronormative world. Less still can it be seen for what it often is: an Autistic person raising other Autistic young people in a world that is simply not made to support or enrich us at all.

So how can we de-centre the ‘male’ Autistic experience?

Firstly, challenging oppression benefits us all and this is in no way a fight against men and boys who also deserve diagnosis, support and acceptance. I want to create a world in which we can all reach understanding and support earlier in our lives.

Unfortunately, systemic misogyny and transphobia, focusing on ‘male’ traits and cultural gender stereotypes are all reciprocally determinant, they reinforce each other and are a difficult cycle to break.

Difficult, but not impossible.

Change won’t come overnight. It comes from the writings of brilliant Autistic academics and those of us who continue to put pressure on politicians and policy makers, the advocates and activists who show up every damn day to fight our oppression.

No contributions from any of us who stand up to oppression is small – we are all part of a bigger movement to change systemic ableism, racism, transphobia and bigotry. We can change things through our anger, through our writing, for showing up for one another, through social media, protests, pride events, Autistic run conferences, supporting Autistic artists, activists and writers.

These acts can and will invoke change so that the Autistic kids of tomorrow have more of a chance at Autistic joy, pride and acceptance.

A room without a mask – Written by Joanna Grace

In The Subtle Spectrum I wrote about two people’s reactions to my telling them I am autistic, the close friend who instantly denounced it: “No you’re not, who told you that?” and the acquaintance who replied with a heartfelt: “Goodness, you must be exhausted from masking so well.”

The first response was like a cold wall coming down between us, the second was like a warm sun rising. I felt seen.

I thought about her words. I didn’t feel particularly like someone who was masking. I did feel exhausted. Like all of us diagnosed in adulthood I was on a journey of understanding. Being diagnosed is a useful piece of self knowledge but it is by no means the whole story.

Recently I find myself at odd moments in the day, and before I fall asleep at night, thinking back to the room in which that diagnosis took place. In a small quiet way I long for that room, and my frequent visits to it in my memory are my way of returning.

I had gone to my GP saying I thought I might be autistic. Having completed various check list assessments and stumbled through some awkward in person questions he referred me on to the psychologist whose room I am remembering.

Walking in was like stepping out of life.

I was greeted with my name and a welcome, no small talk questions.

The room was gently lit and the windows let in a breeze. She asked if I would like any adjustments making, to the lighting, to the temperature. I shook my head, the room was, remarkably, already gentle.

She glanced around clearly doing a quick audit herself of how suitable the landscape of her workplace was for a potentially neurodivergent adult. “I’ll switch that off.” She had spotted an empty plug socket with the switch left on. I smiled. I hadn’t spotted it, but had I my desire would have been to switch the switch off. Not because I fear electricity leaking out into the environment or worry for small fingers, but because the switch remaining on indicates a task unfinished to me. What ever had been plugged in there, probably a hoover for the floor was very clean, it’s job had been completed, it had been packed away, unplugged from the wall and….. and whoever it was that did those things hadn’t completed the task by switching off the plug socket.

Think of yourself completing a task, cleaning the kitchen for example, you stack the dishes away, wipe everything down and there comes a moment when the task is complete, that “Ahh” moment when your shoulders relax and you let out a deep breath. It is done. With that plug socket on I am still holding that breath in, my muscles are still loaded with the activity of the task to which it’s on-ness belonged.

The room was uncluttered, its décor was muted and warm. There was a desk, a coffee table and some chairs with scooped backs. She indicated that we would sit on the chairs. I sat down, she drew a chair up. Positioning it not opposite me, but adjacent, so that we each faced a similar point in the room, but not each other. I felt her to be a companion, someone with me, looking at the same things as me. Had she positioned her chair opposite me I would have felt scrutinised, under attack, defensive.

I took my shoes and socks off, pushing them under my chair and curled my feet beneath me on the seat. Not only did she not start at my doing this, not flinch, it clearly did not even cross her mind to do so. It was entirely un-noteworthy.

In her room, I was allowed to be just as I am.

We talked for a couple of hours. I went back a week or so later to talk for a few more hours. And then I was autistic – officially.

Stepping out of that room it hit me, like the heat and humidity of a holiday destination hits you as you step off a plane. Out here I had to mask again.

I hadn’t realised how much masking I did, almost without thinking, until I spent two hours in a room where I did not have to do any. It is no wonder that when I am tired I long for that room again.

Joanna Grace’s Bio:

Joanna Grace is a sensory engagement and inclusion specialist whose work focuses on people with profound and multiple learning disabilities. She is an author, a trainer, and the Founder of The Sensory Projects. In 2019 her son became the UK’s youngest published author with his book My Mummy is Autistic. Joanna first considered that she might be autistic aged 11 after reading something in a magazine, but was eventually identified aged 36. Her book The Subtle Spectrum charts the post diagnosis landscape for adult identified autistics. Joanna is about to undertake a PhD exploring identity and belonging. Joanna grew up on a boat and now lives in rural Cornwall close to the sea that she loves, but can often be found on trains carting boxes of interesting sensory items around the country to various training events.

Joanna is active on social media and welcomes new connections Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook

The Proud Retard – Written by Daryl Sookun

TRIGGER WARNINGS: bullying; victimisation; use of the word “retard”; strong language/swear words

Let us go to the truth that meets so much denial,
And let us see it clearer.
That if music be the food of love,
Then let awkwardness be its killer.
Since it only takes an awkward stutter,
To diminish what could be a happily ever after.

Through the marginalisation of misaligned misfits,
There are labelled loners,
Who carry the weight of their conditions as crucifixes,
In a secluded society for normal people.
Weirdness is the nail that sticks out of a wooden board.
Every social interaction,
Feels like persecution.
Being livestock for laughter,
And rebuffed by every single lover.
To be greeted with slaps and punches in the face,
Finished with the reminder of being a parent’s disgrace.
To receive a kick up the arse for every tear that falls from the eye,
And to be told that for people like them, happiness is a lie.

There is a dark side to what we call the ‘universal language’,
A side where a smile becomes a dirty look.
Greeted by rejection in every corner of the earth,
With isolation, suffering, pain and longing.
Not alien to the Aborigines,
Or strange to the Japanese.
People of the world would laugh and stare and wonder ‘how odd’,
For this thing of man to have ever been a creation of god.
That is the language that crosses boarders,
For the people with mental disorders.
There are a million linguistic ways to say, ‘I love you’.
And thrice a million to say, ‘fuck you’,
And goodbye.
For you should not be seen by the eye.
Since your existence is a rare mistake of nature,
And therefore, you must die!

Yet to know the truth, one’s denial must shift,
Because this ‘disorder’ is truly a gift.
A gift possessed by those whose sanity is drowned by madness,
And exist in this neurotypical world of sadness.

They are different,
But still like all of us,
Tramps who are born to run,
Through the daily ditches of normality.
But their gifts will one day bring them to tranquillity.
Even if they can’t run,
They are still born and exist day by day,
And can still say ‘FUCK YOU’ in their own way:

They are part of the world and deserve to live in it.
Because it is they who contribute to the Earth’s orbit.
And the writing of history,
And the composing of symphonies,
And discoveries,
That enlighten the Swedish academy.

Here’s to the Nowhere man,
Who reached out to the Nowhere people.
And imagined a world without a heaven,
Because heaven is for the normal.
If all the neurotypicals went to heaven,
The world would be a better place.
A world of peace can only ever be imagined,
In the minds of the people who are called ‘abnormal’.

People of the neurotypical world,
I’m also an ‘abnormal’ man.
So, this is my testimony.
They don’t need you, but you need them,
More than you will probably ever know.
So, let go,
Of your fuelled hatred.
For the people who you don’t understand.
Because for every ignorant person who will be on guard,
There will always be a proud retard.

Daryl Sookun Bio:

Daryl (he/him) is a twenty-two-year-old Autistic writer who has recently finished studying at The University of Kent. The past six years have been the most challenging and traumatic years of his life. Daryl has been a victim of bullying, harassment and discrimination, and has had to endure failed relationships. Yet after having received an autism diagnosis during his studies at Kent, Daryl now has an answer to all the traumatic experiences that he has endured. Now, Daryl wishes to rebuild his damaged life and move forward from his traumatic past and live as a writer to narrate the Autistic experience and be an activist for the Autistic community.

Rebuilding my life after receiving my diagnosis: Autistic writer Daryl educates Chloe and Annette 03.07.2021

A rightly angry Autistic blog

Friday 7th August 2020 – by Victoria Busuttil

Today I feel deep seated, unadulterated, rage and anger.

I’m sat here drinking tea, freshly poured out of my favourite tea pot. I politely dunk my Rich Tea biscuits. Feel sorry for the dog and give her an occasional biscuit. I love the sound she makes when she crunches, it is quite stimmy and I like it. 

I digress – f**king hell, I can’t even rage conventionally.

I’m a bit of a novice at expressing rage and anger, as you can probably gather.

Why am I angry, I hear you ask?                                                                            

Actually, I don’t care if you don’t ask because I’m going to tell you in my own inimitable style. If I were you, I wouldn’t ask because it’s going to be one hell of a s**t storm rant.  Put those ear defenders on.  Scroll on by because I f**king well wish I could do that with my life at the moment.

 I am angry with the system.

I am angry at being misunderstood, not heard, expected to communicate verbally when I am bordering on non-speaking due to overload.

Last April I was struggling with mood swings and suicidal ideation. I had spent 6 months withdrawing off a medication. I’d relocated from the South East of England to the North East coast. I was struggling. I wasn’t depressed -I was overwhelmed. I was scared by these sudden intense and intrusive thoughts. I couldn’t understand what was happening.  I was in a place where I felt safe and life was ok.

 I had been on the same anti-depressants for the last 15-20 years. I was told that the drug was no longer working as the dose had been increased to its maximum. I know now that no drug would ever have worked – I wasn’t depressed. I was experiencing extreme burnout.

The GP prescribed a different drug. He said it was a newer, more effective drug, less side effects. I believed him, took the prescription. What he didn’t tell me was that this drug is notoriously difficult to stop taking and subsequent withdrawal effects can be horrendous. When I am in a state of burnout or overwhelm, I will comply with GP’s and other professionals, just to escape. I should have researched the drug before I gradually tapered off the previous medication and introduced this current one.  To be fair, I wasn’t in a fit state to research anything.

Ironically, the GP lectured me on how taking medication wasn’t a long-term option.

I stabilised for a couple of months, but my mood began to slump again. I could never see the same GP, so different doctors just kept increasing the dose. Finally, a lovely doctor took on my case but to be honest it was too late. We tried to access mental health services, but I was refused.

I gave up on life being any different, there was no alternative.

A couple of months ago I received a date for a second social care assessment (10 months waiting). The assessor was helping out the learning disabilities team I’d been referred to (my LA don’t know what to do with Autistic adults who do not have learning differences). He actually listened to me. He understood my situation and immediately put in a referral to the adult mental health team. Eventually, I was seen by a fantastic psychiatrist, who also understood my Autistic neurology. She understood that I was hyper-sensitive to the medication I had been prescribed for so long. She understood I wasn’t depressed. What I needed was medication that dampened my near constant fight/flight adrenaline response.

In order to recover and get on with my life I needed to get off the current medication. She devised a gradual tapering off over 10 weeks.

I am on week 6 and I am entering a really tough phase. I was struggling to cope with the nausea, but it only lasted a week after the drug step down and for the other week I was ok. The last stepdown has been horrific, unrelenting and is offering me no reprieve. It’s massively impacting my already fragile sensory system and consequently, my mood.

 Yesterday, was the first full day of being child-free, no demands, no appointments. My daughter has been out of school since January with burnout. She hasn’t left the house. I understand and accept this. We’ve got through together (with a lot of cursing along the way). However, adding in the withdrawal symptoms has been hard on both of us.

She went to York with her Dad and brother for 5 days. As much as I love her, I needed a break.

I had dreamt of this break for so long.

I just wanted to get my threads and embroidery silks out and sew and sew and sew. Glorious repetitive running stitches that explored the minute and intricate patterns imprinted in the cloth. Basking in that most beautiful sound of the needle piercing the cloth. The sound and feel of the thread gliding through my fingers. Marvelling at the minute running stitches changing in colour as the variegated silks performed their magic.

Nope it didn’t f**king happen.


Because I felt nauseous.  The withdrawal from the chemical dependency is messing with my brain. I struggle in normal circumstances, but this is on another level.

Next came the pixelated vision – visual migraines.

I searched the house for my migraine glasses.  I have been organising the house lately and consequently can’t find a f**king thing.  This is made more difficult when your vision is obscured by pixelated world which is worthy of a Minecraft creative genius. Eventually, I found a child’s pair of Dora the Explorer sunglasses (don’t ask).  I then embarked on a search for Ibuprofen. Once the pain subsided and my vision returned (and the indents of the Dora the Explorer glasses in my temples had disappeared).

I got mad.

I never wanted to take these drugs in the first place. These drugs have meant that I have literally lost 20 years of my life. I just accepted this situation because I thought I needed fixing, That something was wrong with me that I couldn’t manage with everyday life.

There is nothing wrong with me. The thing is I didn’t need fixing in the first place.  That’s why the medication never worked.

It wasn’t until I happened to connect with another undiagnosed autistic adult a few years ago that I began to realise what was going on.

I started to read first-hand accounts of late diagnosed women.  I realised that the suspicions I had when I was studying psychology in the early 1990’s and read Donna William’s book ‘Nobody Nowhere’, were in fact correct.

 At the time I had dismissed my intuition because the taught narrative at the time was that Autistic individuals treated people like inanimate objects. They lacked empathy. They were locked in their own world. I had too many feelings and cared for people deeply.

My intuition was spot on, so, in 2017 aged 44, I sought a private diagnosis. The assessment confirmed that I was indeed Autistic and not mentally ill.

 I felt relief and euphoria.

 I am wonderfully, beautifully, uniquely Autistic. I expected the world to understand. I thought that armed with my diagnosis, I would gain the support and understanding that I so desperately needed. I naively thought the world had moved on.

The autistic world has but society hasn’t.

That realisation led to extreme burnout.

I was refused the support I needed and was prescribed drugs that weren’t designed for my neurology and my hyper-sensitive system. The prescribed medication has damaged me not helped me. It has restricted my freedom and prevented me from living my life.

 I’m f**king sick of being grateful for morsels of ineffectual support and accepting what the system offers.

I’m angry and I want to facilitate change – right here in this moment.

But I can’t, only through my words and my thoughts typed on these pages. Hoping some person will take note, stand with me and tell their story too. Collectively our lived experience will hopefully be listened to and change will evolve. Then my experience won’t be for nothing.

Many medical professionals don’t understand the experience what it is to be autistic.

I certainly can’t encapsulate it in a 10-minute appointment.

I can’t verbalise my unique neurological differences. How I experience the world differently to the average neuro normative individual.

 The medication drugs trials are largely based on the neuro normative individual. Guess what? That’s not me and it’s not a significant minority of the population.

Any training professionals subsequently receive (if any) about autism is largely delivered by organisations that don’t actually consult Autistic individuals. They deliver training based on regurgitated textbook facts, based on observable behaviour not actual lived experience. Training needs to be delivered by actual Autistic Adults.  These people do exist in the form of Autistic Advocates. They are there waiting, ready to go.

 Most training doesn’t reflect our lived experience and this needs to change. I’m not neurotypical, I don’t ever want to be. My brain doesn’t work the same, it’s natural variation not a disorder. I don’t experience or process the world the same as non-autistics.

Doctors are trained to recognise symptoms, to treat illness.

I am not ill.

I am Autistic.

I wasn’t depressed when I visited that GP on that fateful day and that has led to this moment of me writing out my anger.

I told that doctor that I wasn’t depressed, but they made the judgement that I was. I just couldn’t communicate my depression because I ‘had’ autism.

The same doctor that had supported me withdrawing off a previous medication. That medication had caused tremors so bad I couldn’t hold a cup of tea steady without burning myself. I couldn’t create, sew, something that is integral to my wellbeing. This very same doctor, there and then, prescribed this medication that I am into week 6 of withdrawing from. That I am now chemically dependent upon.

This medication hasn’t helped me and at its best has numbed me from the world and all its beauty. In fact, it has made my daily life worse. How many times do I have to say I am not depressed for them to listen? I am overwhelmed with the world that moves too fast, is too bright and is too loud.

I am autistic and professionals do not know the damage these drugs do to my system that they so readily prescribed and how they affect my functioning, my quality of life. Naively, I kept going back to the doctor. I could never see the same doctor. I could get the referrals to the specialist professional that I needed but was refused as didn’t meet their arbitrary constructed criteria. Instead, different doctors kept increasing the dosage to the maximum and now I am addicted.

 I am needlessly suffering because of the ignorance of the system.  

The failure to listen or to understand the real-life experiences of Autistic individuals. It sometimes feels that we are so pathologized, that any sense of humanity is lost, and we are dehumanised.

 We are a problem to be solved, which is far from the truth.

 I am angry, I feel deep grief, not for being autistic but because I am disabled by the system. I’m angry because I can’t fulfil my potential. I am trapped in this body and in this society that isn’t designed for me or won’t make the accommodations for my neurology.

Things desperately need to change, and I want to be part of this. I don’t want to sit here and moan and grumble. I want to take action.  In order for me to be part of this change I need to get off this f**king medication.

All I ever wanted was peace in my head. To understand myself and my experience. I’m beginning to do that because I’m connecting with my community – my neurokin. My experience isn’t an isolated one.  I talk online to other Autistic adults and listen to webinars led by those with lived experience. They too don’t have the answers. What they do offer is the opportunity for authentic connection and acceptance. Alongside them I continue to learn about my neurology, culture and identity as an Autistic Adult. This is what I need – a safe place to connect, explore and learn.

I don’t need social skills programmes. I don’t need ‘back to work’ programmes because I can’t work in the environments that exist. They’re not designed or adapted to my needs. It sets me up to fail every single time and yes,

 I get back up, but I’m getting tired. Why is it so hard for professionals to take note of real-life lived experiences? Why is it that only the Autistic population who are expected to change and adapt? Why can’t professionals only pay attention to those who have no lived experience of our inner world and emotions? It would save so much money, so much trauma, so many lives, if they just stopped, listened and involved the Autistic community. We are the experts.

I don’t want my life to end or to give up on life. This week I felt like doing just that.

Life is precious.

Life is beautiful.

But in this moment, I feel imprisoned.

I can’t walk in the woods and look at the most amazing patterns of the leaves and flowers. Watch in wonder at the shadows the trees make, the reflections dancing on the pathways with the breeze. I cannot walk down to the sea and watch the waves that calm my racing, spiralling mind.


 Because of the drugs I was mindlessly prescribed. I complied and trusted the doctor as this is my nature. I naively thought that they were the expert.

They weren’t

I am the expert, I have the knowledge.

This my body (no other f**ker would have it now) and I know best and god help anyone who tries to prescribe this s**t to me again.

My story is evidence as to why autistic people with lived experience need to be listened to, to train, to be part of any research and inform professionals.  So, in the future people like myself can fulfil their potential and live their lives in the way they are meant to.

I have no words left I’m tired.

Rant over.