Equally Sick, Unequally Seen

You may have already guessed from the picture, but I’m about to go off once again on my favourite topic: Autism. It’s also about mental health, gender prejudice, and a healthy dollop of What The Fuck because I recently learned that mental therapists all over Australia have decided that Autism is a boys’-only club.

What.
The.
Fuck?

My youngest, known amongst the Interwebs as Chaos, is both a girl and definitely Autistic. I know several people who are definitely girls and also definitely Autistic. I, personally, would love to get all those ladies together and personally storm the offices of whichever numbskull thought this up and just… be Autistic at them until they relent.

There are thousands of stories from all over the world about how women with illnesses are told they’re not really sick. There’s more than one case of appendicitis that was dismissed as “period pain” by either doctor, patient, or both until death threatened. Endometriosis is the most commonly dismissed feminine ailment because doctors have no idea what a normal period is supposed to look like.

Women miss out on diagnoses of ADHD, Autism, and many other neurological noise because “haha crazy women”. First, the ladies are reluctant to step up and admit they might have a problem in the first place, because the first thing (usually) men do with a woman is dismiss literally everything as a mental disorder.

I know where it all started – Hysteria. Also known as Being A Woman Disease.

Way back before medicine actually got scientific, it was once believed that the uterus [hysteros in Greek] would randomly wander around inside the body and cause women to go crazy. Little has changed about the blame for everything women suffer being laid on the uterus… it’s just periods now instead of Hysteria.

Actual Science has since discovered that womens’ “unpredictable” mood swings around menstruation are the result of them having a hormone balance indistinguishable from a cis males. Interesting that, when it’s a woman, that sort of thing makes them unstable, but in men… it’s business as usual.

I wonder what the medical ‘professionals’ are saying women with Autism have instead of Autism? Will there be a new name for it? Or will it just be “haha crazy women” all over again?

The other problem women have with mental diagnosis in general and ADHD/Autism diagnosis specifically is: gendered presentation.

Medical science still studies primarily males. Yes, there are some studies that include the female of the species, but males are still preferred. Why? Hormones. Females have their hormones fluctuating all the time (apparently) and monitoring that stuff is just too hard for too many scientists. Therefore, eliminating females from the testing cycles makes sense, right?

Wrong.

Medications released with male calibration and male doses immediately harm all the women taking them, the instant they’re out on the market. Male-centric diagnosis of whatever completely ignores the fact that many syndromes present differently in females.

Take Autism (please). Autism got noticed in boys first because the boys were: quiet, walking funny, talking funny (if they spoke at all), picky eaters, had very few friends, and would not shut up if their favourite topic came up. Slap that same profile on a little girl, and most of that’s expected behaviour.

Same with ADHD. If a boy can’t pay attention in class, it’s a tragedy. If a girl can’t pay attention in class, it’s “haha what an airhead”. Boys are prioritised. Girls are dismissed. This sort of attitude, though it hasn’t killed anyone with a mental disability yet… has certainly killed or nearly killed quite a large number of people with medical complaints.

But that’s another story.

Imagine, if you will, that Down Syndrome was primarily a male disorder. Boys were overwhelmingly more likely to have it than girls. Now imagine that only the most obvious girls with DS were diagnosed, and the rest were left to hang because “haha girls”. Then imagine that medicine unanimously decided that girls couldn’t have DS at all, that the diagnosis in females was “a mistake” or “something else” or “haha women hormones”.

There’d be an uproar, especially from the parentals of all these DS girls who now had zero access to any kind of help because we all know governments love cutting off support and hate initiating it. Imagine the protests. Imagine the rage.

None of that’s happening with Autism and ADHD. Though the ‘burden’ narrative is the same for both disorders, though the need for help is similar in both sets of people… People are just more willing to dismiss ADHD or Autism in women. They’re not willing to look for it, let alone look at it.

Allow me to explain a few things. The typical indicators of a mental disorder like ADHD or Autism are not as typical as one might think. They’re typical for boys. Even when a girl does manifest the typical symptoms [inability to focus for ADHD or an unwillingness to make eye contact in ASD] they’re more easily dismissed because stereotypes.

When they manifest differently… it gets even worse. A girl with ASD who only has people who harass her daily might believe they’re friends because she has no prior experience with friendship. Everyone in her family may give her hell because ASD interferes with all social capability, and the basis for comparison is even smaller. This girl will say she has friends and her diagnosis of ASD flies out the window because nobody asks what these friends do with her.

A girl with ADHD can’t stop talking in class, but she talks about things currently irrelevant to everyone else, so she’s dismissed as an airhead. Moreso, if she has the comorbid memory issues. Now, instead of someone who needs help, you have someone who is beyond help because the undercurrents of sexism are wont to make everyone say, “haha girls”.

Nothing to be done, throw them into a pretty dress, get them a nose job, and hope she marries someone rich, haha, because there’s no way she’d survive on her own haha.

Because society decrees that girls exist only to be pretty, and women exist only to have babies, all these potentially wonderful people don’t have a support network. Worse – we hear thousands of stories about how young men defeated their mental disabilities or used them to take a step forward in some direction and become a millionaire sensation. How’d they do it? Well, there was this support network because he got diagnosed early…

It almost looks deliberate, doesn’t it?

4 thoughts on “Equally Sick, Unequally Seen

  1. C. M., your blog will soon be added to our Actually Autistic Blogs List (anautismobserver.wordpress.com). Please click on the “How do you want your blog listed?” link at the top of that site to customize your blog’s description on the list (or to decline).
    Thank you.
    Judy (An Autism Observer)

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  2. Both this and your piece on public school attitude hit extremely close to home.
    With the slight difference that that experience was mine from 2005 or so, when I entered kindergarden, onward.

    I’m what one may call a relatively male presenting woman that’s almost without a doubt on the spectrum
    I can’t do eye contact, I’ve only really had friends up until kindergarden stopped, then I just occasionally came into a situation where people would tolerate me and I’d tolerate them, I had special interests that would often involve both scientific and fantastic aspects and what I could find about my childhood read more like a case study than much else, to the point where it was actually suggested several times by people that weren’t psychologists or diagnosticians…those were just stumped, but seemed to refuse to even consider it.

    So, after inevitably being bullied in school and then sent to a “therapy” program to bullied some more (not ABA, but what may be called “ABA if it was devised for people that are actually assumed to be human and then carried out by people that don’t seem to consider their victims human”) which mainly had the effect of teaching me that my parents weren’t safe and neither was, well, anyone else. So, shutting up and taking it became the best option, at least bullying tended to not escalate too much then.
    Oh, also made me suicidal. Whoops.

    Then I had the “luck” to be transferred into a very loud class in a loud school, so I had to look forwards to weekly meltdowns and burnout after about Christmas. Somehow survived that, but lying to people about pretty much everything as my mental health has never been a good enough reason for them to do anything but hurt me was still a thing, perhaps more so than before.

    I suppose what you get from it is, people only care if you’re either a boy or if you’re failing in school or too blatantly in another way. If you can even pretend to hold it together, well who cares?
    Why would it be suspicious for a middle to highschooler to constantly end up sick/”sick”?
    Why worry if your child breaks down at least once a week?
    Why worry they haven’t seen “friends” outside of school since they were ten?

    Honestly, not going to bother you with more since it mostly comes down to the fact that I could have written something almost identical with the difference being only in the years.

    I honestly kind of like the term “r*tard voice” as it the political incorrectness both clearly shows how absolutely wrong it is and the phrasing suggests the people that use it to have extremely outdated ideas about disability, similar to the way some racists are said to be stuck in the 50s-60s. But maybe I’m looking it too much like a stylistic device.

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    1. Holy shit. The fact that the injustices that happened in the nineteen frikkin _seventies_ are still happening _thirty gorram years later_ just makes me want to rage. I’m angry on your behalf about what happened to you and should never have happened to you. Especially the experiences with “r*tard voice”.

      Yurgh. Just remembering “r*tard voice” makes me ill.

      Autistes everywhere agree that ABA is actually formalised torture [forcing a littlie to go through FORTY HOURS A WEEK of “you’re not allowed to express yourself the way you want to, do it like _normal_ people do” is not good, folks] and whatever you went through was probably not much better than ABA as it was intended. As you put it, made for humans but performed by people who didn’t think they were applying it to humans.

      I’ve written so many stories about what makes intelligent life. Perhaps I should write a piece about not being human. Maybe you should too. [If you can. I know how painful these memories can be on a spiritual level. If you can’t, then I am prepared to go off on your behalf 😀 ]

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