Too Many Neurodivergent Women Are Still Falling Through The Cracks

The ripple effects of skewed diagnostic criteria

Jae L

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Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

You might have heard of the ‘lost’ generation of women who are discovering their neurodivergence later in life. It’s probably more like three generations, given that most women born before the 1990s would have flown under the diagnostic radar.

The medical profession is also playing catch up. Even now, people assigned female at birth are on average older when diagnosed with autism and ADHD.

The immediate explanation is diagnostic criteria skewed towards traits typically associated with boys. But it goes much deeper. The diagnostic criteria both feeds and is fed by prevailing ideas of what neurodivergence looks like.

This institutionalised ignorance ripples through society: if parents, teachers and community workers don’t have an accurate reference point for what autism and ADHD look like, they are less likely to recognise it in girls who are then less likely to get anywhere near a professional to assess it. The narrow idea of autism and ADHD is thus preserved.

It means girls and women are still being denied valuable knowledge that is key to understanding themselves. They are continuing to be lost.

Instead, people will reach for other explanations for who she is and what she does. Some explanations are benign — she’s just a quiet girl who loves reading and gets more excited about horses than humans.

Others are highly damaging, slapping labels on her with a stickiness that ensures that they will never be lifted but just have more stuck over the top like a second hand campervan.

She’s difficult, demanding, flighty, over-sensitive and just plain weird. The message is clear: you’re not the same as everyone else but at least try and pretend that you are. Suck it up and stop spoiling things for others.

Other people’s explanations of her become her own. Painfully aware of how other people see her, she tries to dial it down, to ration these instances of being herself. She wants nothing more than to be good. Normal. Likeable. These are the measures of successful girlhood.

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Jae L

Queer, neurodivergent and in the business of defying expectations. Doing my best to answer the questions I keep asking myself. diverge999@gmail.com