Compared to before, there has been a lot of progress when it comes to women empowerment and equality, even though there is still a lot of work to be done in those regards. Today, women have more of a voice, and stand up for their own rights, as seen by recent movements such as #Time’sUp and #MeToo, which has become a big thing lately, especially in Hollywood. However, I do feel that there’s still a long way to go for progress with the inclusion of neurodiversity, and in particular, for female autistics to feel empowered as well. So, for this year’s International Women’s Day, I decided to reflect a little bit about my thoughts as a female autistic, and how I feel as one living in a country such as the Philippines, where there is still a long way to go for those who live on the spectrum and are high functioning.
Living on the spectrum or being high functioning is a very difficult place to be in, especially if you live in the Philippines and are female, like me. This is because unlike severe cases, to most people, most of the time, you sound and behave like neurotypicals do. However, what they don’t know is that our brains are wired a little bit differently, and we do exert more effort in trying to understand social cues and behaviors around us, and we are trying our best to keep it together and not get too overwhelmed by things around us.
Unfortunately, diagnosing girls who are on the spectrum or high functioning is a little bit more difficult than when it comes to boys. More often than not, high functioning females may have been misdiagnosed with another condition first, or at least are suspected of having a different condition before learning of their real diagnosis.
In fact, my parents did think I was borderline at one point, which is why they decided to have me tested. However, I am glad that they did because if I didn’t take that test, I wouldn’t have started therapy with my life coach, and I wouldn’t have known about my diagnosis as well.
The thing with high functioning females is that we cope with social situations by mimicking others to fit in and by watching in the sidelines to gauge what the best response to a particular situation is. I used to do both of these a lot in high school and in college. I would try to have the same interests as my close group of friends and try to imitate how they behaved and sounded like, as if they were my templates of how neurotypical people should behave. However, this was often exhausting, as there was a lot of effort exerted on my part, and it also caused me to reject who I truly was. In fact, I’d often think that I was living a lie as I was very different with my peers as compared to when I was at home and able to be my true self. I also did a lot of observing, and tried to carefully craft responses in my head, which is why many saw me as an introvert, although I am an extrovert; and which is why sometimes, my reactions and and responses are sometimes a little bit late.
I always knew that I was very different from my peers when I was young, but unfortunately, unlike others today, I did not have the benefit of early intervention, and I was only truly diagnosed when I was in my late teens and early twenties.
Since then, I have finally accepted who I am and my diagnosis, even though it took me nine years to truly accept who I am.
It took a lot of time and effort for me to reach where I am today, and even though I am comfortable talking about these things here, I am still not comfortable talking about it to people as I still get tongue-tied when I try to explain and they don’t get it because “I don’t look autistic”, or they chalk it down to me being anti-social and quirky just like other neurotypicals are. However, I can’t really fault them for that, because acceptance of the neurodiverse, and especially to those who are female as well, still has a long way to go in my country.
Don’t get me wrong, there has been some progress, with laws and bills, more therapists and early intervention therapies, inclusion programs that help high functioning autistics be part of the work force and have a career, and groups that advocate and help those with special needs. However, there is still a lot to be done and Philippine society itself as a whole does have a long way to go before neurodiversity and female neurodiversity is truly accepted.
So, for this year’s International Women’s Day, my biggest wish is that many high functioning females and Aspergirls will be able to celebrate who they truly are today, and rejoice in what makes them unique from other people. I also hope that all of us will be able to one day have a more distinct voice, especially in Philippine society; and I hope that there will come a time when neurodiverse females don’t have to feel that they have to hide or “mask” themselves in order to cope with the people they are with.
How did you celebrate International Women’s Day, especially if you are on the spectrum or high functioning? Let me know in the comments below!
(P.S. Oh, I’m also trying to look for great fictional female characters who are neurodiverse or high functioning to talk about, so if you know of any good examples in any form of media (tv, books, comic books, movies), please let me know in the comments below, as I would like to write about them sometime in the future.)