I recently read an article by Geek Girl author Holly Smale, who was diagnosed with autism at age 39. Smale, a bestselling children’s author and public speaker with an MA in Shakespeare, wrote about her journey. She suggested that the very late diagnosis of autism was the result of her cleverness and her gender which threw everybody ‘off the scent’.
Smale’s experience is not unique as many girls go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed due to the autistic process of ‘masking’ (hiding or changing behaviours) to blend in. Her experience is also backed up by research which tells us that identifying girls on the spectrum is statistically less likely than recognising boys (16-1 instead of 3-1) because they don’t fit the male-prescribed and heavily researched model.
I could relate to Smale’s writing as my own daughter, who has just graduated with a double degree in Law and Psychology, is on the spectrum. Smale writes that it is ‘…only now, as a late-diagnosed autistic woman, that I’m beginning to appreciate just how beautiful my neuro-divergent mind is…my brain works quickly, my memory is astonishing, and I can write full books in my head… noises become lights flashing in the dark and I see emotions as colours, shifting like rainbows. I feel deeply, even if others don’t see it.’
A child with autism may need more alone-time, may misread sarcasm or colloquialisms, may have a deep interest in certain books, movies, or toys and may be sensitive to noise, touch, smell or taste - or they may not. Those with autism share and differ in characteristics, and they both struggle and excel in their own individual and unique areas. They may also be more vulnerable to sexual abuse and assault as they may not read the warning signs and so we must ensure that all students understand and insist upon respectful relationships, from early childhood.
At Canberra Girls Grammar School we work with students and their families to identify and support children with autism, so they don’t fall through the cracks. Our Academic Engagement Team, led in the Junior School, by Mrs Jillian Shaw provides support, extension and enrichment opportunities for students that cater to their individual needs and assisting them to be successful and flourish.
Ms Angela Whitaker
Deputy Principal (Head of Junior School)