In 2017 I discovered that autism looks very different in females to males. Not that I had a particular concept of how it looked in males. I had a smidge of experience with it. I noticed it in a few males close to me, and in a lot of characters in books and on TV. But I didn’t know it know it. You know?
Being atypical was always just that: Atypical.
Atypical is just different. Not less than. Not superior. Just different. Worthy of love and kindness. I barely considered any of it beyond that.
But then in about February of 2017 a friend with an autistic daughter shared something that made me giggle a little, and then it made me take a really long pause. My first thought was haha if this is accurate then I’m autistic too and then my second thought became if this is accurate then I’m autistic too!
So of course: I looked it up.
Soon I was learning things about how autistic girls tend to experience less frequent meltdowns, less language delay, and they show less interest in technology, opting for less obscure special interests that might not seem “weird” to the casual observer. Ok. Well those seem like the traits that we pick up on in boys super easily, right? And girls don’t really have that? Interesting…
Girls on the spectrum lean towards higher intelligence, may be more prone to eating disorders, come across as shy, and as children (and sometimes as grown ups) tend to seek out “mother hen” friends. Autistic girls often come off as mature in childhood, and as childish in adulthood.
The list goes on and on and on.
But most importantly: Girls are very good at masking their autistic traits, learning quickly which parts of themselves are unacceptable and suppressing those parts. And let me tell you: this mental juggling takes a HUGE toll on mental health, even if you don’t realise you’re doing it.
You mean not everyone does that?
Oh please. Of course they do. I’m being ridiculous. Yes. Ridiculous. Right?
I spent hours and hours combing through this topic. And when I say hours: HOURS. Seriously. So many hours. It became my obsession for months and months and even after it died down a little the obsession never fully went away.
I showed my husband some of the stuff I’d found.
Nadine: Babe, according to some of this stuff, I think I might be autistic.
Ty: No man that’s not possible.
Nadine: Look here.
Ty: Oh. Right. I sort of feel like I understand you a little better now.
That means something? Right? This is the person who lives with me. Who knows me best. If he’s going “oh, right, maybe” then that means something!
No no. Of course I’m being ridiculous. He’s being ridiculous. Who finds out at 35 that they’re autistic? No one, surely!
Turns out: A lot of people.
And so my journey started. With one meme and a lot of questions. Here I am three years later, not quite feeling ready to share my discoveries, but doing it anyway. Because I know that if it wasn’t for all the folks out there who were willing to share their stories, I might not be here today. Believe me when I tell you I don’t say that lightly. I feel like the only way I can truly say thank you to those people is by paying it forward.
While I know for some, such a revelation might seem shocking, for me it was the biggest relief I have ever felt. It was letting go. It was exhaling. It was a sort of coming home. And while the process was painful and even dangerous at times, this education and this insight has brought me peace and has set me free in ways I cannot accurately describe.
For the first time I have settled hard into myself. For the first time I have begun to understand the relationship dynamics that I have struggled with so much. For the first time I have started to treat myself with kindness instead of harsh criticism.
A sigh of relief. A spark of self love. These things are priceless. And I am so grateful for them. And I am beyond grateful to the people who helped me find them.
I hope to share more in the next while about my experiences. For myself as well as for anyone who might need to hear my story. Because it truly is time to speak. Even if my voice shakes.