Many of you will be aware of our amazing Aspire programme, providing a lifeline for autistic young people and their families. People often associate Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASCs) and Asperger syndrome with boys but it is something that affects many girls too.
Fewer girls than boys get identified as being on the autistic spectrum for many reasons. The male gender bias and the more ’subtle’ presentation in girls means that girls are less likely to be diagnosed, even when their symptoms affect them equally. An emphasis needs to be placed on the different manifestations of behaviour in ASCs as seen in girls and women compared with boys and men.*
Girls are generally better at masking symptoms, as they are more able to learn how to act in social settings. Diagnosis is often missed because girls can learn social behaviour based on intellect rather than social intuition. This sort of mimicking and repressing their autistic behaviour can be exhausting, perhaps resulting in the high statistics of women who have ASCs with mental health problems. The lack of diagnosis means that many girls and women are not receiving the help and support that they need.*
In the last year, Aspire has grown from just one group with three young women, to two groups with a total membership of 14 with more on the waiting lists! We have engaged in proactive outreach through schools in order to find the girls to invite to the groups. The girls (aged 9+) and young women come from all over Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire. We believe these weekly groups are unique in the UK and we are currently involved in Cambridge University research to explore this.
The groups give the girls a chance to engage in activities such as Lego, board games, crafts and Nintendo Wii, and to meet others who experience life in a similar way to them. Many of the girls have expressed how they feel they have friends for the first time. These groups have become a safe haven and a place to develop independence, self-identity and confidence.
Some of the girls in our older group (aged 13-17 ) gave this feedback:
“It helps me make friends that know what I am talking about and know why I feel that way. It has also reassured me that it isn't just me who has got Aspergers in Cambridge, and has boosted my confidence about telling people about Aspergers and Autism.”
“I love seeing my best friends, hanging out and the activities. It’s the only place where people appreciate who I am and don't think I’m weird or mean.”
If you would like to find out more about our work with young women with ASCs, please email the Aspire team.
*Information from The National Autistic Society