What's the harm?
Neurodivergent girls often miss out on support because they look like they are 'doing ok', when actually they're not.
This is important because*:
70% of autistic 10 to 14 year olds have co-occurring mental health disorders - anxiety and depression is rife, particularly among autistic girls and women.
1 in 5 autistic women with ADHD have attempted suicide
Suicide is the second most common cause of death of autistic people, and autistic women without a learning disability are most at risk.
Autistic people without a learning disability are up to 9 times more likely to die by suicide than non-autistic people
Unidentified autistic people seem to be at an increased risk of dying by suicide
Girls are diagnosed as autistic 6 years later than boys
Autistic girls and women who self-harm are twice as likely to die by suicide than autistic boys and men who self-harm
Have a look at our 3-min explainer video
Why’s this happening?
Outdated notions about ‘what autism looks like’ persist. Girls are identified as autistic about six years later (age 10-12) than boys (age 4-6), research shows. Compared to the boys, many more girls were diagnosed with something else, like an eating disorder or anxiety disorder, before autism was later identified.
Girls and women - particularly those who don’t have a learning disability - are more likely to suppress their autistic traits and mimic the behaviour of others. This is to try and fit in socially or keep themselves safe. They may be quiet, articulate and keen to ‘do the right thing’. So they often miss out on support because they look like they are ‘doing fine’.
But we now know that suppressing your autistic traits over a period of time can cause serious harm to your mental health and self-esteem. It’s exhausting, and can lead to severe anxiety, depression and trauma. It’s also a risk marker for suicide.
When you’ve spent time pretending to be someone else, it's really easy to lose sight of who you really are, deep down. Then it becomes hard to express your own wants and needs to keep you safe and feeling ok.
Autistic women tell us that it feels that you’re always a step behind and can’t work out why, that there’s a handbook about how to be that you weren’t given. You just don’t ‘do life’ as well as everyone else - and it feels like it's all your fault.
New research shows that promoting belonging and reducing daily traumas for autistic people can protect against suicidal thoughts. Doing this as early as possible is key: data also shows that unidentified autistic people appear to be more likely to die by suicide.
A small, informal study by autistic advocate Carly Jones found that people were safer from abuse after they were identified as autistic and received support.
How you can help
We know that neurodivergent girls bloom if they:
Believe that they are enough as they are
Feel that they belong
Can express what they need to feel safe and well
So even if a diagnosis isn't part of the plan right now, and even if she seems to be 'doing ok': exploring her needs right now could save her life.
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