Megan Kenyon speaks frankly about her experiences with Autism, and the consequences of late diagnosis of autism in girls.
I was 14 years old when I was diagnosed with autism. If I hadn’t already been in CAMHS (Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services) I probably wouldn’t ever have been diagnosed. I wish I could say my story was an anomaly, but up and down the country autistic girls are going unnoticed until they develop a mental illness.
Looking back, I can see how my undiagnosed autism led to me struggling with my mental health. I knew I wasn’t quite the same as my friends; I had no time for small talk and struggled to maintain eye contact. Anorexia was my way of dealing with a world that wasn’t designed for neurodiverse people like me – but it didn’t have to be that way.
Typically, autistic people are portrayed as Sheldon Cooper like boys with a science obsession and an inability to express emotion. The symptoms people look out for don’t fit with girls – whose autism manifests itself in an almost entirely different way. Autistic girls mask their symptoms and copy the behaviour of those around them, making it much easier for them to fly under the radar. As a result of this, a divide has developed. Girls are 4x less likely to be diagnosed than boys, and even then, they are likely to receive their diagnosis as a teen or adult, rather than as a child.
The issue becomes even more evident when you look at the unusually high rates of mental illness among the autistic community. 23% of people suffering with eating disorders also have autism, yet only 1.1% of the general population is autistic. This overrepresentation could be partly pinned down to a system that continuously lets autistic girls down, leaving them to find their own harmful coping mechanism.
There’s no simple solution to this complex issue, but researching into how autism presents itself in girls and working to pick up on it earlier is a good place to start. While it wouldn’t eradicate all mental illnesses autistic girls face, at the very least it would provide them with an understanding, and the necessary tools to face the anxiety created by trying to fit into a world that isn’t designed for them. Ultimately, the current system isn’t working. Waiting until girls are already struggling with a mental illness before assessing them for autism is a dangerous and irresponsible way of doing things. Change is needed, and soon.
Megan Hayman is a 16 year old student and feminist from the Midlands.
She tweets at @meganxhayman.