Autism's a bitch. It's made life miserable for me starting before the age of 3, when my brain gave out and I stopped speaking, threw tantrums, and smeared feces on the wall. My parents took me to a neurologist in 1958 when practically no one, including doctors, had ever heard of autism. The neurologist did not know what to make of my behavior and it was felt my problems were likely psychological rather than due to an organic impairment and I was whisked off to a psychoanalyst's couch for more than ten years. I was in special ed for eight years of my life. As an adult I was fired from a variety of jobs and had other problems.
I guess the above paragraph is old news for any regular reader of this blog for the last several years. However, I've come across a new popular question in autism research on whether or not some autistic individuals can hide or mask their disability or as the researchers put it camouflage the disabling aspects of their autism so no one would know they are handicapped.
The question of camouflaging has recently come up in autism discussions, articles, and even in academic journals because some believe the reason there's a 2:1 ratio of autistic males to females in more severe cases yet a ratio of 6:1 in the higher-functioning cases is because many autistic females fly under the radar because they are so adept at masking or camouflaging their symptoms. They won't come to the attention of school teachers, parents, pediatricians, etc. Or the pressures to fit in with non-handicapped peers and to mask their symptoms caused them to have other problems such as depression or anorexia when they really had autism all along. Or because clinicians are prejudiced against diagnosing autism in girls, they're diagnosed with something else.
Though research in the area is still new, some scientists and clinicians have published papers suggesting some autistic persons camouflage their problems and that women on the spectrum have a better ability to do this than their male counterparts. Allison Ratto, one of these researchers, appeared on C-Span with Autistic Self-Advocacy Network president and staunch neurodiversith proponent Julia Bascom.
This theory has been embraced by some eminent persons in the autism world including Simon Baron-Cohen and Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Thomas Frazier. They state that it's likely the true male/female ratio of autism is 2:1 rather than the generally accepted 4:1.
Some female neurodiversity proponents, such as some character who calls herself "autism with skip" on twitter, have even gone as far as saying there's complete parity between autistic males and females.
There's no evidence for this statement and for it to have validity its proponents would have to explain away the female protective effect found in so many studies. I've written about this in a previous blog post
However, the protective effect does not explain away a 6:1 or greater male to female ratio. It could still be 2:1 because certain high-functioning females weren't diagnosed.
I've also written a piece in which I point out methodologic flaws in the interpretation of the data suggesting the camouflage hypothesis as a factor, but I'm hoping to get it published as a magazine article at some point, so, for this reason, I'm not including it in this blog post. However, if I can't get it published anyplace I may write a blog post about it at some future time.
I've also corresponded with Allison Ratto about some of these points and she was nice enough to answer my email and address them.
As I've written before, the autistics who promote neurodiversity seem to be disproportionately female. Therefore, they seem to have an interest in not only ensuring that all of these supposedly undiagnosed females get their dx, but also seem to want to create an entirely different diagnostic definition for women as opposed to men. Julia Bascom has written about this.
Some of these female neurodiversity proponents have stated that some women did not get diagnosed until adulthood when their son or daughter was diagnosed and only then they received a diagnosis. If they were able to have children, they're higher functioning than I am as well as most autistic persons, male or female.
If I could have disguised my autism, I certainly would have done it. It would have been nice to have friends, lovers, and a job without being fired. It would have been nice if I could have been so well-behaved as a child I could have attended a regular school. I wish I could have controlled my loud voice and funny movements, even if I had done my twiddling (self-stim) only in my bedroom at home and never demonstrated any of my movements publicly.
I've known several autistic people over the past few years, including pretty high-functioning ones and there's no way most of these people would not have been spotted as someone with some sort of problem in a pretty short period of time.
I believe it is sexist and chauvinistic to claim that women have a superior ability to disguise their autism to men. To date, there is no evidence to suggest this. The studies on camouflaging are still new and I'm sure more will come out. They should see what the data says in multiple studies before stating this hypothesis as fact or likely.
Men on the autism spectrum have just as much reason to attempt camouflage as women. They have the same disabilities and attitudes from society that would handicap them due to their problems being overt. To say women have more reason to camouflage has no basis other than prejudice.
Simon Baron-Cohen's irresponsibility is par for the course, going back to his autistic people have vision as keen as birds of prey statement which he later had to retract. However, for the chief science officer of an organization like autism speaks to state this is likely is appalling. I suppose this is also par for the course for autism speaks given their track record.
Female neurodiversity proponents new crusade to do this gives new meaning to the term autism's a bitch.