Such a great article – and better yet, it’s been published in The Guardian. So, great visibility. We need more voices like this – loud and clear.
Last year, in my late 40s, I was diagnosed with autism. I’ve always known I was different, and sought a formal diagnosis after the traits I’ve lived with for almost five decades became progressively more difficult to manage.
I’m certainly not the only woman who has had to wait a long time for a diagnosis. The National Autistic Society (NAS) is calling for doctors to have a better understanding of how gender differences affect autism, and to recognise that women and girls have been historically under-diagnosed.
In its 2012 survey of more than 8,000 autistic people and family members in the UK, the NAS found that women and girls were more likely to be misdiagnosed than men and boys (41% of females had been diagnosed with another condition on assessment, compared to 30% of males). And once they were diagnosed, women and girls were less likely to access extra support. In cases of Asperger syndrome, only 8% of girls were diagnosed before they had reached the age of six, compared to 25% of boys; and only 20% of girls were diagnosed by the age of 11, compared to 50% of boys. Many women remain undiagnosed until their 20s or 30s.
From an early age, I was fascinated with the way things worked and happiest reading books and being on my own. Playing with groups of other children was always disastrous. I also had sensory problems and an over-sensitivity. Labels in clothes, unexpected noises, strong smells and dirt and germs would stop me in my tracks.
When we were considering our O-level choices, my biology teacher suggested I pursue a career in medicine, but all I could focus on as she spoke was the smell of the lab and the alarming appearance of the locusts in formaldehyde. I couldn’t bear it, so I chose drama school instead. I’d spent my life training to be other people, watching and learning, surmising how to fit in, so I loved this experience.
I needed other people to explain to me the mysteries of human behaviour. My brother Michael, who died when I was 12, was one of these people; my mother, my rock, was another. As an adult, when both my daughters were diagnosed as autistic, I wondered if my eccentricities were similar to theirs, but life was so busy caring for them and my mother, who had Alzheimer’s, that there was no time to question it.