Honor Oak WI (HOWI) are excited by Autism Acceptance Month, after spearheading the NFWI’s (National Federation of Women’s Institutes) ‘Thinking Differently’ campaign.
“Female presentation of autism means that many women are being diagnosed late or not at all” says HOWI member Alison Long “We are the Invisible Women.”
Thinking Differently highlights the difficulties Autistic Women and Girls, and those with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), face. Autistic girls are typically diagnosed much later than boys.
Raising the issue through the WI was a no-brainer for Alison:
“How else do you get 190,000 women involved in campaigning for a change?”
The Thinking Differently Campaign objectives are for women and girls to:
– have better diagnostic materials specifically designed to identify female autism
– gain better support and funding to help women and girls with autism
– develop better professional training to both identify and support those with Female autism, and
– raise public awareness of the condition in Women and girls.
So why not take the opportunity of Autism Acceptance Month and the WI’s campaign to think about autism and the women and girls in your life?
Why experience of autism is different for women and girls
Alison says “Diagnostic materials and guidance are largely based on the classic male presentation – girls will fail to tick some of the boxes.”
Traditional views of autism describe typically male presentation, the “little professor” maths nerd model. Girls tend to learn masking and mimicking at an earlier age than boys. Typically, girls language skills develop earlier than boys but a girl who is appears quiet and shy doesn’t necessarily raise concerns. Obsessive interests with animals, pop groups or handicrafts are not identified as criteria in the way that a boy’s obsession with trains or space travel might be.
Alison’s personal experience illustrates the progress we need to make
Alison has first hand experience of the issues women and girls face – she was 68 before she was diagnosed as autistic.
“When I started researching my condition, I was shocked” says Alison. “especially when I read that autistic people live 16 years less than an average individual. Heart and circulatory problems is the top killer, followed by suicide.”
Everyday life can feel very difficult for undiagnosed women, which can lead to a misdiagnosis of mental illness.
“Being autistic means constant stress”, says Alison “I believe it contributes to my fibromyalgia and chronic migraines, quite possibly to my heart problems as well”.
Just how did Alison get female autism to become a national campaign for the WI?
“With a lot of determination and the support of some amazing women” said Alison.
The process was stringent – the WI receives thousands of proposals for a resolution to campaign around every year, and ultimately only one is chosen “I had fantastic support from the start” she says happily. “Firstly, locally, from Honor Oak WI members, and a lovely group of autistic WI members I contacted though a Facebook page. Then the regional Federation and then National became involved, I then travelled to Liverpool to speak at the National Annual General Meeting in Liverpool to propose and support the resolution.” The resolution was passed with a massive 96.5% vote.
“It’s incredible that from our local WI of 25 women in Honor Oak we have got to set the National WIs campaign” says HOWI Secretary Sophie Smith
How long is the campaign?
While there is added focus on the Thinking Differently campaign in this Autism Acceptance Month, the campaign will run until its achieved its key objectives.
“Our WI campaigns don’t just last a year, we keep going. Important issues such as Climate Change, Ovarian Cancer and Ending Domestic Violence are still very much on the agenda. Thinking Differently about Female Autism and ADHD is a very important addition to that list.”
Contact Alison Long firstname.lastname@example.org
Honor Oak WI meets the first Tuesday of every month except August at 7.30pm at Stanstead Lodge cafe