Over the past decade there has been a substantial increase in the recognition of Autism Spectrum Disorders and Asperger's Syndrome paralleled by the extensive growth of literature and research on the matter. Nonetheless, the 4:1 boy to girl ratio of identification and referral to diagnostic assessment has drawn the attention of clinical professionals and educators. An explanation is needed for the apparent gender prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders and Asperger's Syndrome in boys and men, in face of the discrepant minority of their incidence in girls and women. According to Dr.Tony Attwood, author of "The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome", there is an urgent need for a paradigm shift, when girls are being unidentified or misdiagnosed due to a male conceptualization of the condition. "Asperger's and Girls" emerges in an attempt of response to this question, as the book's collected essays and perspectives by authors Dr.Tony Attwood, Dr.Temple Grandin, Catherine Faherty, Shelia Wagner, Mary Wrobel, Teresa Bolick, Lisa Iland, Jennifer McIlwee Myers and Ruth Snyder, seek a fundamental breakthrough in understanding the different individual and environmental aspects of Asperger's Syndrome in the feminine gender. The experts intend to inform and alert the general reader, parents, sufferers, and professional audiences, on the particularities and difficulties of Asperger's Syndrome, by taking the different gender pattern of development and abilities of girls and women into consideration. Attwood starts by noting that the hesitancy and difficulties of clinical professionals in assessing the diagnosis can be greatly influenced by the subtle or veiled manifestation of the symptoms in girls. This may be due to a variety of factors; the open verbalization of emotions on the base of female education, to their being mothered and accepted by their female peers (in opposition to the greater intolerance of difference in male groups and emotional repression/overtly aggressive segregation and behavior), and even the assuming of identity masks and characters in social situations in order to conceal anxiety or fear, stemming from a strong desire for inclusion and acceptance. Cathering Faherty reinforces this analysis in "Asperger's Syndrome in Women: A different Set of challenges?", by exposing also the double challenge of women with Asperger's in society, approaching the topic of gender expectations (the projected empathic/relational knowledge of women, personal image/looks/clothing/behavior, and the aspects of dating and marriage), and stressing the problem of discrimination on the views of demonstrable rationality in men and women. "Educating the Female Student with Asperger's" by Sheila Wagner, M.Ed, sets these problematics against the inter-personal arena of school and educational practices, approaching the main difficulties as well as capabilities, shown by girls with Asperger's at school; from idiosyncratic speech, intense interests, solitude, problems with group projects and group interaction, anxiety, to the particularities of impaired social contact (that may be neglected and seen as mere traits of shyness or embarrassment), as well as the lack of integrative purpose with peer trends, that cause girls with Asperger's to be more socially reserved. Lisa Iland on "Girl to Girl: Advice on Friendship, Bullying and Fitting in", develops the topic of bullying and social integration taking the external stance of a neurologically normal adolescent on Asperger's Syndrome. These subjects will be further expanded by Mary Wrobel in "Preparing for puberty and Beyond", where the social immaturity of girls with Asperger's is related to a greater susceptibility towards their being victimized by moral and physical abuse, forms of molestation or advantage taking and deception. "The Launch: Negotiating the Transition from High School to the Great Beyond" by Teresa Bolick, Ph.D, probes with greater profundity the necessary preparation of girls entering womanhood and their personal and professional performances on the greater spheres of college, career and adult relationships. These topics will be divided and scrutinized equally by Jennifer McIlwee Myers in "Aspie's Dos and Don'ts: Dating, Relationships, and Marriage", "Maternal Instincts In Asperger's Syndrome" by Ruth Snyder and Temple Grandin's "For me, a Good Career Gave Life Meaning", that demonstrate the social and professional preoccupations of girls with Asperger's, and ways of overcoming challenges, constructing and cultivating self-knowledge and motivation, being able to develop friendship skills and coping with the world's interest in dating and sexuality, emphasizing special interests and ways of achieving happiness, security and a fulfilled life.
The offered discussion of this book can not be classified as distinctively scientific and fundamentally profuse in terms of new research, being also fairly incoherent and thematically recurring. However, the sharing of different points of view and a concise and simple phrasing, allow for it to be accessible to a broad public and stand as an interesting preliminary exploration of Asperger's in girls and women. Though it may prove insightful as a starting point to further in-depth research, its relevance is shown mostly in terms of raising awareness and improving educational practices and sensibility, an aspect that may help acknowledging and filling the debilitating void of absent or misguided support.
© 2011 Helena Barbagelata Simões
Helena Barbagelata Simões is currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Affairs (Major) and History of Philosophy (Minor) at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas/Universidade Nova de Lisboa. She works as freelance translator and writer, with published poetry and prose in several anthologies.