Busting Myths About Autistic Girls and Women, One Unicorn at a Time

unicornWe Unicorns seldom have a chance to gather in the magical wild lands of Manhattan, but thanks to a press pass arranged by Sharon daVanport, president of Autism Women’s Network, I got to meet another of my species at a panel entitled Autistic and Female: They say That’s Rare and so Many Other Things at the Disability Studies in Education conference at Hunter College, on May 27.

With a generous dollop of whimsy that autistic people are alleged to lack, Dr. Grace, an assistant Professor with the Diversity in Learning and Teaching Department and research methodologist at Louis University in Chicago, used her unicorn analogy to expose the myth behind the assumption that females with autism are rare. In fact, Dr. Grace maintains, autistic girls and women like her, and like me, are everywhere, but vastly under-identified and under-served. In a critique of theories, like Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen’s suggesting “extreme male minds” and lack of empathy in autism, she noted both logistical and political underpinnings of the assumption of our rarity. She included in her overview of these theories comments on gender, class, race, and other biases that can block autistic girls and women from being recognized and accessing what they need.

It was in these comments that Dr. Grace’s true unicorn nature began to shine through. She is rare, not so much as an autistic woman, or as a female scientist, but as a female autistic research methodologist, who undoubtedly has a unique perspective on the methodology behind the research of such widely discussed theories. Dr. Grace and her colleagues from Louis University, Dr. Linnea Rademaker and PhD candidate Jason C. Osmolak, were thoughtful and generous in their interaction with the audience about topics ranging from empowering parents to challenge educational norms to the importance of co-research in building trust between autistics and scientists studying our experiences. But oh, for a bit of unicorn or other magic to stop time and discuss at length Dr. Grace’s unique view of how Dr. Baron-Cohen’s information-gathering techniques may or may not have informed his findings!

Sometime soon, I hope Ibby Grace and I will meet again and chat over tea and cookies about that subject to our hearts content. You know, just standard girl-talk, one unicorn to another.


About the Autor: Carol Greenburg is the East Coast Director for the Autism Women’s Network. Carol is Executive Director of New York Special Needs Consulting, is a special education consultant and professional non-attorney advocate in private practice serving the five boroughs of NYC and beyond. Her unique perspective as an adult with Aspergers Syndrome, and as the mother of a severely language-delayed autistic child, informs all of her work. She is also one of the editors at The Thinking Persons Guide to Autism. A prolific writer of essays on autism and frequent speaker at National Conferences, area universities, parent support groups and community based organizations, she is a member in good standing of Council of Parents Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA).


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