Neurodiversity, Top Stories

High Functioning and Fine

Those familiar with the “discovery” of autism usually attribute it to Leo Kanner, an American psychiatrist working at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. His famous monograph, published in 1943, was made possible with the help of assistants Georg Frankl and Anni Weiss, both of whom had previously worked with Hans Asperger, a pediatrician working in Vienna during WWII. Kanner had a narrow definition of autism. He thought it was a rare childhood psychosis and forwarded the theory of “refrigerator mothers” as the cause. Asperger thought it was far more common and existed on a “continuum,” or what we now call the ‘spectrum.’

Asperger’s position vis-à-vis the Nazi regime under which he lived put his research in the shadows, and it was only in 1991 that Uta Frith’s book Autism and Asperger Syndrome brought his work to the English-speaking world at large. The American Psychiatric Association included Asperger Syndrome, as distinct from autism, in the DSM-IV in 1994, and subsequently removed it from the DSM-5 in 2013.

I suspect the American health system, run by insurance clerks, had something to do with the redefinition. Approved treatments are contingent on the codes of the DSM diagnoses. Autism research is geared towards the most severely challenged, and those previously designated as having Aspergers are not being addressed.

I saw Dr. Temple Grandin, perhaps the world’s most famous living person on the spectrum, being interviewed circa 2005. She opened my eyes and I began a journey of self-discovery. Grandin addressed the autism/Aspergers diagnosis in a 2014 interview with Nancy Alspaugh-Jackson in a YouTube series produced by the Center for Autism and Related Disorders in Tarzana, California.

Grandin sees too many higher functioning autistic kids being babied in classes with their more severely affected peers. Her advice on job skills, responsibility, manners, and pushing kids to achieve their potential should be implemented into every child’s curriculum. As, she remarks in the interview above:

I think that merging Aspergers together with autism has made all of this worse . . .  Every other diagnosis like dyslexia, learning problems, ADHD, you got a fully verbal kid. Only in autism, right now, are you getting a range going from smart computer geek down to someone with very severe challenges.

Due to the evolving definition of autism, another group has largely been left out of the mix of research and treatment: girls. Kanner’s rigid boundaries applied to severely autistic boys. Only recently have I found research about “camouflaging” – the technique girls on the spectrum use in social situations. As in many fields of research, the boys’ symptoms and behaviours were used as the benchmark for diagnosis, and thus treatment. This new research provides the following definition: “Camouflaging is the difference between how people seem in social contexts and what’s happening to them on the inside.”  With girls, if you mimic the norm, you can fit in just enough to get by.

I have often described my difficulties with relationships in these terms. I am comfortable with those who are the same on the outside as they are on the inside.  That’s why I feel so comfortable with animals. Group activities with too many different energies going in different directions were overwhelming for me. I would run out of kindergarten to stand in the hallway when it became too much.

My mother and teachers labeled me as painfully shy, a “normal” state for a girl who liked to draw and read. I don’t like to be in a crowd, but I do like to be in an audience, where we are all focused in the same direction. I excelled at certain subjects: mathematics, art, anything to do with animals. My IQ has been reliably tested at 148. I was reading Nancy Drew in grade 2 and The Godfather and Peyton Place in grade 5 and 6. I didn’t understand the parts about sex, and, pre-internet, I was too intimidated to ask anyone.

I was asked to go to the principal’s office in grade 1 to read him a story I had written and show him the illustrations I had made for it. While I liked to excel, the extra attention was uncomfortable. I could admire those who spoke a second language, or were naturally musical or athletic, but I always struggled to perform, feeling too many eyes and ears upon me. Puberty was the time when I was the most typical compared to my peers. The hormones overwhelming my cohort meant that everyone was socially awkward and unsure of what their emotions were telling them.

As a teen in the baby boomer filled suburbs of 1970s Montreal, I found a social group that felt inclusive and accepting, with easy-to-learn norms. They were what we would call the stoners. Everyone was an oddball or an outcast. Strangeness was celebrated. Smoking hashish relaxed me and I was able to participate in our stoner games, many of which were based on language or math.  My encyclopedic knowledge was cool and my humour was appreciated. There were no tribal or racial boundaries with the stoners, and later with the musicians I befriended.

I spoke at length with a representative of Autism Speaks in Montreal a few years ago. They acknowledged that women of my generation were almost never diagnosed unless severely afflicted. In order to get a diagnosis in my province at this time, I would need to pay hundreds of dollars, as it is not accepted through referral. She told me they like to interview the parents (sadly mine are deceased) and, were I to get a diagnosis, it would make no difference at my age except to get me a slightly higher welfare pay cheque should I ever find myself in that situation.

Since research is ongoing and there are no blood tests, MRIs, or X-rays that can definitively tell if a person is on the spectrum, it comes down to a diagnostician observing behaviour and hearing anecdotal stories of one’s history. So I remain self-diagnosed, which I understand invites criticism. Fortunately, I don’t care. Had I been diagnosed as a child, I might have felt more stigmatized than I did just being the smart clumsy shy girl. I think of the backpacking tour of Europe I took after university and I hate to think that a diagnosis meant to help me might have sheltered me or prevented me from some of the best experiences of my life.

All I need is understanding – that is, to understand the world and the people around me. I often felt as though I were an observer of the human race, and I liked science fiction for that reason. There exist a lot of ultimate outsiders in books like The Man Who Fell To Earth and Stranger In A Strange Land. There was a man dreaming he was a butterfly dreaming he was a man. Is that how it goes? I recently told a friend that I always figured that if one day I were to walk out of the door and reality appeared completely different from what I knew (which, somehow, has always seemed a possibility to me), I would pretend and just play along, just as the science fiction protagonists would do.

In studies about girls and autism, the stated goal is often to provide programs to enable autistic girls to become the same as the neurotypical ones. This troubles me, and reminds me of programs designed for ‘gay conversion.’ My time alone can bring me great joy – painting, reading, thinking. I need some social interaction as every human does, but it is not nearly as pervasive a need for me as it is for some.

When I research Aspergers, I don’t look for advice from doctors or from parents. I look to the source ­– other adults who identify on the spectrum. In Steve Baker’s 2015 article “The Syndrome Formerly Known as Aspergers,” he talks about a “sweet spot” on the spectrum, and states that, if a cure were to appear tomorrow, he would not take it.

I have to agree (now) because many of my difficulties were with difficult and duplicitous people, and I’m not sure I would want to be able to see them as normal. My favourite thing about myself is the way I think and the way I perceive the world. One thing I have noticed about myself is that, compared to most, I am remarkably non-tribal. Because I never assumed I was the same as everybody else, I have to take each individual as they come. Characteristics like race or gender or sexuality or religion are not homogeneous.

My beliefs are emotions informed by logic. I am obsessed with fairness. I have abundant empathy for those oppressed or in far-off war-torn lands. I care deeply about the environment and animals being safe and free from cruelty. I feel kinship with feminists, but not a certain kind of woman who emphasizes their traditional gender role as the “right” way to be female.

A hypothesis is forming in the back of my mind that this may be a part of human evolution. Evolution is slow and messy and I feel bad for those severely affected, but that may be nature’s attempt that didn’t quite achieve its potential. I celebrate their humanity all the same. Ultimately, I feel that if other people were more like me, there would be a lot less strife in the world, and perhaps a lot more invention. As Dr. Temple Grandin has said, “Let’s think back to the caveman days, I don’t think the social yak-yaks around the campfire made the first stone spear.”


Marion Pennell lives in Montreal. Painting and writing give her purpose. She has seen Bruce Springsteen in concert 31 times and Jane Goodall twice. She likes to call herself a bleeding heart socialist liberal eco-feminist.


  1. sea otter millionaire says

    I learned in this essay that the author has a high IQ, tribalism is totally not a thing for her, she does fun stuff like backpack in Europe and she’s accepted by musicians (so cool!). I was expecting to also read that successful men find her attractive. But seriously, how about the crushing loneliness that is the norm for people with autism? How about mentioning that boys with autism vastly outnumber girls? How about the inability of science to explain the recent increase? How about something – anything – outside the narrative?

    • akvadrako says

      I think it was to go against the idea that mild autism should be considered a disease or disability. It’s more like a personality trait or as the author mentions, being gay.

      Part of the challenges for those like the author are caused by how it’s perceived.

  2. Marion Pennell says

    Boys may not outnumber girls the way you think if girls are not being diagnosed. The Temple Grandin video gives two theories for the increase. I concluded with a theory about human evolution’s hits and misses.
    Of you meet one person on the spectrum, you have met one person on the spectrum. There is a good life for some if you find ways to cope. There is no more a norm here than with neurotypicals dealing with life’s challenges.
    Most articles I see are by neurotypicals telling everyone how horrible life must be for those with autism. If you needed to read an article about crushing loneliness, ask the next autistic person.
    Oh I didn’t go into how many men (not all) do not like a woman with a high IQ, because gender interaction was not the point. And marriage is not every person’s goal.
    I am glad you think musicians are cool. I think all artists are pretty cool. My friends are usually from fringe groups. There can be a rich social life with the outsiders.
    So sea otter millionaire and Softclocks, sorry you got nothing from my article. Maybe the next reader will get something.

  3. I’m on the spectrum and I recognise most of this in myself (though I’m male.)

    I’ve also frequently referenced The Man Who Fell to Earth and Stranger in a Strange Land as titles that express the feeling of alienation most of us on the spectrum have. In fact Kathy Lette’s book about her Aspie son is called The Boy Who Fell to Earth in reference to Walter Tevis’s novel (or Nic Roeg’s film), and Temple Grandin’s self-description as An Anthropologist from Mars (which Oliver Sacks took for the title of his book) could well be a subtitle for Heinlein’s cult classic.

    The only thing I’d take issue with is the one about evolution. Sadly evolution doesn’t work that way: people with poor social skills are less likely to have children.

    Autism seems to me to be a spandrel: not an adaptation in itself but the outcome of several concurrent adaptations that in themselves are beneficial but in combination are maladaptive.

    • Marion Pennell says

      Thanks Thomas J Clark and Speaker To Animals. I have to look up spandrel.

      As for evolution, I have thought about who is breeding fastest. (Have you seen Idiocracy?) And the Duggars have outbred Stephen Hawking, so there you go. But I do believe evolution is very slow and tries many things, like Neanderthals for example. Some work out, some don’t.

      Many articles call an autistic mind an extreme male brain. I’m not sure what I think about that. I find men very tribal in general, sports teams being an easy example. I feel the future of humanity depends on getting away from warlike tendencies. But the future I imagine is far far after I will be gone.

      • Evolution does not “try” things. Evolution is a blind process without a goal.

        • Marion Pennell says

          I would posit that trying something does not always have a goal. I tried a course in sign language, I don’t know what my goal was. I took tap dancing lessons (in a group) knowing I would never be great at it, I guess the goal was simply to try.
          I absolutely agree evolution is a blind process, but I still like the word “try” for each time a mutation comes into the gene pool. It tries to influence evolution, but it may or may not be successful. So, in my mind, it tries.

    • ESKM says

      The spandrel equalizes three directions of force thus forming the triangular space at either corner of an arch. The more extreme the force, the stronger (which usually means larger) the spandrel. Among males I believe it’s the case the distribution of attributes factoring into autism is more extreme. In other words it would expand the spandrel. For men.

      • Marion Pennell says

        Ahh, the extreme of the Y chromosome! I don’t have the research handy to cite, but I read many years ago about the fragility of the Y chromosome. More males are conceived but more males are miscarried, bringing it to the more or less 50-50 balance. Two Xs are more robust.
        I also read that the bell curve of IQ for men-women has a 50-1 ratio at the extremes. The article stated that the prevalence of extreme mental retardation and IQs below 80 among men correlated to the prevalence of genius among men (starting at an IQ of 120). In this article (that I can only recall but not quote), 80% of humans fall between 80 and 120 with 100 as the peak of the curve. Within the 10% below and above those marks is where the statistical differences showed up.

        Which is all to say, thanks so much for the explanation of the spandrel. And the idea that a male spandrel might be larger, or more extreme, is something to pursue.

  4. Santoculto says

    Most autists and psychotic-types over-idealize the correct way to be ”social”. The best way to interact with many people at the same time is ”to be part of crowd”, and look down most of informations in this demographically dense social environments. When you start to despise the sorrounds you tend to become more relaxed. Paradoxically, at least for highly mentalistic people as me, the best way to be social is to be ”anti social”.

    • Marion Pennell says

      Musicians, artists, gay people, immigrants, punks, homeless people – all the outsiders – these are people I am comfortable with. Rigid social boundaries, conforming to the majority, doesn’t work for me either. But there are plenty of people on the fringe if you know where to look! Montreal is the perfect city for me. Lots of eccentrics make it a colourful place.

      • Santoculto says

        Many of this people are not confortable with you. Outsider is very subjective here with your examples. Most ”immigrants” are conservatives and tend to treat true outsiders in very bad ways…

        • Marion Pennell says

          Okay we are having a communication problem. I like the word outsider, and I never mean it to be negative because I identify with the term.
          The immigrants I make friends with in Montreal, in Canada, have been super cool, open to their new culture, and we have awesome conversations comparing our life experiences. I find the people I have met who have risked a lot to get here (Tamil refugees, Ethiopian refugees for example) are actually quite liberal in their politics.
          I don’t know what country you are from, I would like to know your experience.

          • Santoculto says

            When you say ”immigrant” bear in mind that those people are not always as these you have handled. I don’t need have a experience with ”immigrants” to understand that they are not all great people. In the end of day, i live in the third world country and discrimination against odds is quite common, it’s rooted in ”our” culture, it’s nothing different than a typical day within the Red America. Even with many ”anti-discrimination laws” we know, we feel how has been. MOST people in the world are conservs. Canada has been secularized but when you invite all the rest of world to live here you’re inverting this trend. Indeed i think you embodied quite well the neo-stereotype about autists, about your naivety. I understood perfectly your good experiences but again, if you dislike average white canadian i have a bad news to you, they are even less worse than people here. In Brazil for example to be perpetuous ”happily extroverted” and futile is the rule. Of course, there are exceptions as always or often have, but don’t expect that millions of brazilians immigrating to your country will make it a better place.

            I simply hate ”multiculturalism”, our western culture is so morally and intellectually mediocre and for so many time that no have reason to import another trash to ”be tolerant”, i don’t need, i don’t want to be tolerant with culture which demonize my homossexuality or treat nonhuman animals as objects. I already no have exactly a perfect good time with western culture heritage…

          • Marion Pennell says

            Oh goodness I am a white Canadian and if you were to average out my assets and deficits maybe I am average. All my 25-plus years friendships are with white people. Because I grew up in a white suburb, not segregated, just demographically white.
            But I gain a friend from this workplace, or that course I took, or that art exhibit, and because of immigration a lot of the newer friends I have made in multicultural Montreal have immigrated and I love to hear their story if they want to tell me.
            Because I love to learn all the time, I ask them a lot of questions about whatever it is that I wouldn’t know: religion, education, history, food. So variety is great. Montreal is very gay-friendly, and yes Canada is liberal. In Quebec a woman doesn’t take her husband’s name when they marry. I know it’s not representative of the world.
            The female immigrants I have made friends with generally like the freedom women have here. I don’t know every immigrant or very gay person or every artist. I think my little list of outsider status backfired from what I was trying to say.

          • Santoculto says

            This multiculti vibe seems finite. My experience: conservs are partially correct about most things, but they are mediocre. Libs are relatively correct about most things but they are histerical. I was born in the wrong country but i’m fine within the comfort zone. But it’s OBVIOUS that brazil have racial issues and that this racial issues are not due only because cultural or historical aspects but also by biological [psychological and cognitive] ones. Brazilian universities are exactly the same to american ones, strongly dominated by (((leftists))) and this country is already in its own ruins and it can all potential to become even worse, uglier. Many people have different stories to tell about MASS immigration, different and not with a ”happy end” as yours. Repeat, i don’t need multiculti friends to understand their cultures; most of people in the world are considerably stubborn to self-analyse and to self-actualize. Because majority of westerners are still whites this lib vibes is here but it doesn’t mean it will keep like that for long term.

            I dislike EXCESSIVE extroversion of africans and similar, and specially when this trait is combined with DISRESPECTFUL BEHAVIOR, something endemic among them. All other races or peoples also tend not to be spectacularly polite but on avg african-descendents are disgustingly disrespectful and it’s not so easy to combat even because it’s part of personality of many, many them.

            Canada as well all other western countries are in the (((gramscist))) vibe who said that the best way to conquer the power is via culture or cultural change. You’re glad about another cultures while most of the culture you are a heir has been systematically ridicularized and yes, eliminated, slowly, in very subtle ways most people you included cannot perceive, because this work has been done by psychopaths & sociopaths, the extreme opposite of typical autistics.

          • Marion Pennell says

            There is a lot to unpack in this comment.

            I do need multicultural friends to understand them. Engaging from a cold distance, reading about facts and not meeting people to explain the actual experience – that doesn’t work for me. People are not the same as textbooks. There are 2 billion Christians in the world, and for all the Christians I have met, they all practice and believe differently, and not a one in lockstep with the text.

            This part of your response is beautiful “My experience: conservs are partially correct about most things, but they are mediocre. Libs are relatively correct about most things but they are hysterical.”

            Excessive extroversion is subjective. It’s cultural, not racial. When I was young I found Greek and Italian families very extroverted compared to my WASP upbringing. Canada is not in danger of losing its polite stereotype anytime soon. In general the people that come here love it, we don’t tend to self-segregate that much. Of course I live in Montreal, which is special even in Canada. I think you would love it here.

          • Santoculto says

            No there such thing a ”multicultural friends”, if not all people have just one personal culture and often it’s a family one.

            Extroversion is absolutely objective, it’s nothing subjective here. Subjectivity is like two songs in the same range or level but with very different style: classic music versus some great non-classical music.

            Excessive extroversion is even more objective, i find quite interesting you, a autistic person, often a very introverted one, believe that something you always notice and as different than you it’s not a total thing but a perspectivic thing. Extroversion is cultural too but not in the way you are trying to say. If ambiverted people don’t exist.

            I dislike histerical, EXTREMELY pedantic leftist types, they are so so wrong… i’m super tolerant even because i’m in relationship with one but it’s so complicated, it’s just like a big baby. One of the reasons i hate multiculti is that because i’m vegetarian and anti-carnists and most about this cult is the celebration of how different ways nonhuman animals are exterminated too feed a transbording human trashes…

            Multiculti is a LIE, a official globalist culture to destroy and enslave humankind with this disgusting super rich, extremely hypocrite ”elit”.

          • Marion Pennell says

            I wil drop the objective/subjective issue with extroversion. Some cultures promote boisterousness and some cultures promote quiet politeness.

            I’m not keen on pedants, especially those that lecture on gender differences and try to tell me how I am or should be.

            We are going to disagree on multiculturalism because our experiences seem so different. I live in a modern tolerant city with every race and religion on my street. There are people from largely vegetarian cultures (the Hindus I have personally met are vegetarian) and those that won’t eat pork.
            I don’t see any way that multiculturalism is a lie serving the elite. But you have your experience and I have mine. For me, the people I meet with different traditions only add to the richness of culture here.

  5. Susan says

    “Bleeding heart socialist liberal eco-feminist” who cannot find kinship with women who emphasize “their traditional gender role as the “right” way to be female” sounds fairly tribal to me.

    • Marion Pennell says

      Hi Susan! The women who more or less tell me to my face that being a mom/wife is the only way to be, and then criticize me, they rejected me first. That is exactly why I phrased it that way.
      I have friends who are traditional moms that do not judge me, and we agree that every person should find the destiny that suits them. I think that is the difference. I don’t tell them how to be and they don’t tell me how to be. Enjoy yourself! Be the woman you were meant to be!

  6. I&F says

    The testing is there for preborn and very early infancy to identify Autism spectrum . Specifically MRIs and other brain scans . Also this prospectively explains a large of the gender bias in Autism spectrum. This also means that blood testing is an option.

    • Marion Pennell says

      Want to get back to you… Need a quiet time to watch the video and absorb the info.

  7. I’m not sure how useful the ‘extreme male brain’ label is. Men do tend to be more systematising so in that respect we (autistics) are more stereotypically ‘male’ but we don’t tend to present with other stereotypically male behaviour, like watching sports on TV while eating a pie with one hand and scratching our balls with the other.

    If I recall correctly many of the genes for brain development are on the X chromosome. Since men have only one X chromosome they inherit only one set of these genes so if their is a problem – whatever combination of genes lead to autism – we are more likely to present with autistic traits. Since a woman has one of either X chromosome active in each cell they would be less likely to develop autism.

    • Marion Pennell says

      Thanks for the laugh with that visual image! My mom was a math genius. We would do math games and puzzles for fun. She wasn’t very girly either. On my dad’s side there was a “strange” aunt (his mom’s sister) who never married, was artistic, and kept to herself. Unfortunately my mom passed before I discovered Temple Grandin. I would have loved to talk to her about this subject.

    • Santoculto says

      Autistics tend to be cognitive hyper-masculine but not in psychological ways, just autistic women who tend to be more fit to this extreme male brain theory.

      • Marion Pennell says

        I can understand psychological gender differences, mainly because of hormones and socialization, but I do not understand what you mean by cognitive hyper-masculine.

        • Santoculto says

          ‘Masculine” cognitive aspects, for example, spatial/mathematical versus verbal. It’s well know that women tend to excel in empathy and in other social/mentalistic cognition but not exactly in the same way in non-verbal, non-social stuff.

          We are ”divided” in affective/psychological and cognitive. Cognition is based on primary [thinking style] and secondary [verbal/ mathematical//symbolic; spatial] aspects. Autistics tend to excel where men tend to excel, in non-social aspects, spatial, mathematical and even in intelectual [in my view a mix between mechanicism and mentalism]. So make some sense to say that, in some aspects, autistics tend to have a hyper masculine brain. Another reason is that autistic brains seems like a exageration of some important normative masculine brains, for example, hyper-connectivity within hemispheres instead between them [viewed as a feminine normative feature which on avg is characteristic/typical/common in woman brain].

          In affective stuff, it’s still correct to say about hyper masculine brains specially for autistic women, specially if they are compared to ”neurotypical” women. But about autistic men seems we have a mixed bag of combinations and trend to androgyny, namely in affective aspect. But i can be perfectly wrong about most of this stuff above.

          • Santoculto says

            Another reason is that autistic brains seems like a exageration of some important ASPECTS OF normative masculine brains

          • Marion Pennell says

            I read somewhere that the corpus callosum is bigger in women (no citation), and that’s why they can go back and forth between the hemispheres so well. I read that women’s intuition is an example of this, again no citation.

            Other than that I never liked this men are better at math, simply because my mom and I both loved math and logic: games, puzzles, those brainteaser things you have to take apart. She could do the Rubik’s cube. So I grew up thinking girls could do math, just a lot of them had a bad math experience right around grade 9 and then dropped it and accepted the stereotype that they were bad at math.

            I find it sad so many people are innumerate.

          • Santoculto says

            ”I read somewhere that the corpus callosum is bigger in women (no citation), and that’s why they can go back and forth between the hemispheres so well. I read that women’s intuition is an example of this, again no citation.”

            I read that psychopaths have bigger corpus callosum. I thought if women better connectivity between hemispheres is due to white matter and also because social behavior require a interaction of different regions of brain if this is basically a improvisation + semantic/and autobiographic memory.

            ”Other than that I never liked this men are better at math, simply because my mom and I both loved math and logic: games, puzzles, those brainteaser things you have to take apart. She could do the Rubik’s cube. So I grew up thinking girls could do math, just a lot of them had a bad math experience right around grade 9 and then dropped it and accepted the stereotype that they were bad at math.”

            But it seems a very anecdotal example. Because you dislike this it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. You’re autistic woman and it’s expected you will be better in math than a avg women.

            I never liked this feminist hate about anything feminine. Women don’t commit most of crimes in the entire world despising some psychobitchies in governments [with their sonofbitch ”friends”], it’s most be celebrated by women their general lower levels of one of the most primitive, useless and ridiculous behavior: agressivity by nonhuman animal reasons.

            ”I find it sad so many people are innumerate.”

            I’m mostly innumerate but i’m fine, i think very numerated people seems very cold or excessively systematic.

          • Marion Pennell says

            “it’s most be celebrated by women their general lower levels of one of the most primitive, useless and ridiculous behavior: agressivity by nonhuman animal reasons.”

            Thanks Santoculto for keeping in the conversation. I love the quote above. I don’t even know anymore what is feminine? Is it caring? Is it compassion, collaboration?

            Is is makeup and hair and heels and fashion? Is it putting everyone else first? I don’t even know the definition that everyone would agree upon. But the stereotypes of femininity don’t appeal to me, especially now that I am older.

            I will definitely agree that the majority of crime, rape, assault, murder and war is instigated and committed by men. Testosterone much?

            Cool about the corpus callosum and psychopathy… is that research in both genders? Super interesting.

            Obviously I never researched math and girls, because for me, having the mother I had, it seemed like a ridiculous thing to even check out, when the smartest math mind I knew was female. I find great joy in mathematics. When I learned about n-space in advanced math in grade 11, I thought I was learning about God.

            Thanks for coming back.

  8. The above also explains the ‘difference’ in IQ noted above. The same mean IQ for men and women but a larger standard deviation, e.g. a flat tailed distribution with more men than women at either end of the bell curve.

  9. Hazelnut says

    Do you think a diagnostic tool for girls would hurt or help them? A diagnosis, on one hand, might give one a sense of relief that she is not “crazy”, but on the other hand, may marginalize her further.

    • Marion Pennell says

      That is something I have been pondering since I found all these articles on girls and autism. On the one hand, I would have had more peace of mind when I was younger if I could have understood myself better. On the other hand, would my family have “let” me go to Europe by myself (before the invention of cellphones and GPS)?

      I have met a couple of families with kids on the spectrum. One in particular gives their adult daughter as much responsibility as she can handle. Her dad hopes she will marry one day. She was dating a boy who was brain damaged from a swimming accident, and dad thought he wasn’t good enough for his daughter. They are planning how she can live as independently as possible.

      On the other hand I have met a couple of parents with boys who are just mild on the spectrum, but they are so babied and coddled, I can’t imagine them ever being able to hold down any job.

      So diagnose, but don’t victimize?

  10. Hazelnut says

    It makes me crazy when children are coddled and not pushed to their potential.

    • Marion Pennell says

      I know a family with a Down Syndrome kid (one of 6). He is about 40 by now, and has a really cool life. Maybe because I live in a province with a good social safety net? (I don’t know who pays for what… but he has a job, an apartment (I believe with room-mates, and a social worker kind of person who checks in now and then) and a pretty great life.) He lives to his highest potential, is kind, funny, and a good friend, and boy does he love hockey!
      I have met “regular” people who never rise to their own potential in any way and would look down on this lovely man compared to themselves.

      Give people real opportunities and see what happens!

  11. Hazelnut says

    Diagnose, but not victimize – in a perfect world.

    • Marion Pennell says

      “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”

      Robert Browning

  12. You are a woman. Autism correlates with traits that range between sexually attractive to neutral for women, but unattractive for men. For example, shyness. In fact in an era of loud and promiscuous women, a lot of men want to marry the nice shy likes to stay at home and not partying all night kind woman. It fits reasonably well with a traditional gender role for women.

    But it is a disaster for men. Autistic boys are constantly bullied, are on the bottom of the social hierarchy at school, athletically crappy, feel themselves unmasculine thus having no sexual worth, and tend to become those very ridiculous “nice guys”, the “euphoric new atheist” boasting about his intelligence, the fedora, the neckbeard, the idiot who at the same prostates himself before women he is interested but at the slightest rejection yells expletives at them, and so on. 4chan robots have a lot of stories.

    Autistic men thrived when social interaction and womanizing was learnable: when at a ballroom dressing, the etiquette of talking, dancing was entirely scripted.

    Autistic men can only thrive if 1) they are noticed and somehow managed and helped through school, such, pushed to do some sports at least 2) we restore a scripted, etiquette-book type, learnable way of socializing and womanizing.

    • Marion Pennell says

      I think everyone could learn from talking about what men and women want. I don’t think men need to learn to be womanizers – that’s a terrible term. But I learned to be assertive and I hold my own in any conversation or debate. I don’t defer to men because they are men. So alpha men are not interested in me. And believe me, that’s fine.

      Every woman is different. Every autist is different. I carved out a life that works for me. Now that I’ve been through menopause (I’m pushing 60) I no longer have any romantic desires. The eggs are powdered now.

      But I never wanted children. I don’t like being around babies. I even adopt my animals as adults. I do the minimum of housework. I would spend my time painting, reading, writing. None of this fits a traditional wife/mother role.

      I previously worked at a music distributor. The mainly male employees were quirky, and in my opinion half of them would easily be on the spectrum. Their deep interests happen to be music (I heard a lot of weird experimental stuff there) and some of them produced experimental video and scored films. Their personal styles were very individualistic, none of them followed any fashion but their own. All of them had wives or girlfriends – usually artsy girls, who liked the gentle ways of their mates and had true equal partnerships.

      I think the version of romance some men (and it’s too many men, not just those on the spectrum) have is tainted by some version of it based on comics, or film, or video, or porn. The ridiculous men you describe are afraid, and they know the script they are trying to follow isn’t working, and yes they come off like assholes. The outside is not matching the inside.

      But you develop conversation skills over time. Figure out which of your deep interests is the best one for conversation. Actually practice the give and take of conversation so you don’t lecture – this is very important! In my 20s my buddy Mike used to call me Diane when I would start being like that (Diane from Cheers) and it was code for SHUT UP ALREADY! It’s all learnable. I hope you have a sense of humour because that helps.

      And give the weird girl a chance, or the chubby girl, or the shy girl. I hate on TV when they have a big schlubby guy with a gorgeous fit wife, it’s unrealistic. Not every woman is the cheerleader. If you want to get laid, I’m not going to help you. If you want to find a girlfriend, I can help.

  13. (I have had the same experience, but the difference is, that as a male, we are often happy to compete rather than conform. So as she describes herself as a bleeding heart liberal – in other words has the intuitions of a female – I ended up the opposite specializing in competition and natural law – with the intuitions of a male. As far as I know the autism spectrum increases the distance between our intuitions and our reason for what appear to be extremely trivial reasons in the early neural economy – but that has had zero impact on how we decide those questions that are solved only by intuition: by rather than reason. Women think like women do, and men think like men do, because our competing gender reproductive strategies evolved prior to our use of reason, and almost certainly before our development of consciousness. There is a difference between the male and female brain structure due to the development of that distance, but there is also a difference between the male and female structure due to endocrine influences. But we can still observe that we see both genders with both reproductive, social and cognitive biases each varying along the male and female axis of development.)

    • Marion Pennell says

      I am certainly not a conformist. I just follow my own path. Other men and women have remarked on that about me for years. I have certainly met men that are bleeding heart liberals. (I have met women who could care less about the environment or other people.) I think it is logical to take care of our society and protect those that need protection. The whole society becomes safer.

      As for competition, I suppose it depends on what you are competing for. Competition in the animal way – for resources, territory, and mates – seems to be contributing to most of the world’s ills. I believe we can rise above.

      I remember a story a man told me once about achieving a goal. He used the metaphor of sperm competing to fertilize the egg, and said don’t you want to be the fastest and strongest sperm and beat all those other guys? I said I identify with the poor egg who is just hoping it’s not one of those two headed ones, or the one that swims in circles.

      I still think it is the influence of hormones far far more than brain structure or cognitive bias. I watched part of a documentary on Chaz Bono’s transition. As he took the male hormones, his girlfriend said he became more confrontational, more aggressive, and less likely to listen. She was not pleased because she was a lesbian and had fallen in love with a woman.

      Once we reach a certain age the balance of our sex hormones changes. Men lose testosterone and their estrogen becomes more apparent (think the kindly grandfather), whereas for women it is the opposite and a lot of women become far less submissive once they pass that milestone.

      Societies without enough older men (killed through war, famine, disaster, etc) are primed for rebellion. Elephant society requires the older males to teach the young ones and keep them in line. In areas where the elder males are slaughtered it is not uncommon to find small groups of rogue males terrorizing villages.

      If we had more wise male leadership maybe men would be more inclined to divert their impulses into more productive activities. I like female leadership too of course, but some men seem to have comprehension problems with that scenario, so entrenched are they in their views of rigid gender differences.

  14. Angus Black says

    Fascinating article in which I see much of myself. I do not understand, though, why you (or anyone, really) would believe that “camouflaging” relates to girls but not boys. It was abundantly clear to me that my life was going to be far easier if I could “pass for white”, as it were. It took me a while to manage it (and certainly it is easier to manage in more scripted interactions – professional life is far easier than personal life in that respect).

    I absolutely agree with Steve Baker – if there were a cure, I’d certainly not take it – like the author I’m pretty happy with (proud of, in truth) the way I think and make sense of a world which seems, recently, to be going insane. I can pretend successfully with the inmates most of the time and have found at least a couple of people who remember the world before it went fully bonkers – practical people in situations where events have hard edged consequences (farmers, engineers, IT geeks, pilots) – with whom I can relate on various topics and levels.

    Many of the comments are interesting too. I’m interested in the concept that autism is a neutral—>attractive trait in a woman but not in a man. It is probably so. It has been helpful to me to be a high-achiever in that respect (I was certainly more attractive to the opposite sex during the peak of my career). Certainly I was not attractive to women as a youth. I’m lucky to have found a smart woman who finds what I can offer adequate compensation for my preference of avoiding other than small social events. My wife is much more a “joiner” than I could even pretend to be … but we have been happy together for decades now.

    I’m fascinated to see the author call herself a “bleeding heart, socialist…”. I see the idea, of being in many fundamentally conflicting groups; for myself, I always feel an outsider. I find myself in such furious disagreement with some tenets of every group (while sharing others – though I like to think of myself as being willing to keen be be skeptical of even the most fundamental assertions underpinning my, for the time being, conceptual foundations). I’ve become much more comfortable with being an individual, more than being anything else, as I have got older.

    Sorry to be so self obsessed in this commentary. Thanks, Marion, you have given me much to ponder.

  15. Marion Pennell says

    Lovely response. Good logic about your wife. I would love to read a comment by her.

    I quoted the idea of camouflaging literally because I found that term in the research. It really means fake it until you make it. And yes, it is a good strategy. Up to a point. Then become yourself!

    Autism is not an attractive trait in a woman for traditional men, believe me. How much is the idea that women sacrifice for everyone around them, and put themselves last, perpetuated and idealized? The idea of a woman embracing a strange but brilliant man is much much more accepted than the other way around. Harold and Maude is literally the only movie I can think of that does the opposite.

    I personally see more women accepting “weird” or “different” men as their own and cherishing them. Women who don’t want to wear makeup (etc. etc. etc. for all the typical female accoutrements) or stay in their lane are not usually the top picks for men to marry. See how you found a woman by being yourself? And you are happy! Congratulations, she sounds wonderful. You could give some of these other men, stuck in stereotypes, a lesson on life.

    When I define myself, it is how I see the terms I choose, not how anybody else defines them. I always use multiple terms and I am a Canadian, so bleeding heart socialist comes easy, and I like the term so I use it. Thank you Angus, I am enjoying the comments section far more than I expected.

    I should get into the Happiness Curve, a theory I read about in an article in The Atlantic. It posits that when you get older, you can accept the crap of life so much better, and you adjust your perspective. I could never have written this 10 or 20 or 30 years ago when I was still struggling to figure myself out. Life is hard, that’s why the best is left for the end. (I read that somewhere.)

    The most interesting thing is that most people who want to be self-aware go through pretty much the same struggle to find the same place at this age. What is funny is before I knew what to call myself I felt totally outside of regular society, and now that I know what to call it, I see the similarities of life’s challenges in so many lives. Those of us who make the effort, the self awareness in older life – I think we are approaching wisdom. Imagine that!

    (sorry so rambling)

  16. When you’re on the autism spectrum and you read this it’s mandatory to crank up the theme song from the 90’s X Men cartoon when you are done reading

  17. Michael Layden says

    Thank you so much, Marion, for your eloquent article. For me, a window into a previously unknown world of experience. Also, thanks for your extremely patient responses in the comments. It’s seldom in any forum I follow the comments to the end, but the quality of yours had me hooked.
    Montreal seems such a special place. The circles you describe sound like the background of the young Leonard Cohen.
    Thanks again

  18. I hate being in a crowd. My social anxiety was so bad I couldn’t go to Mcdonald to order a burger. I also love being around unique people that other people refer to as ‘oddballs’, but I find fascinating.

    I’m an aspie woman, and nobody knew, including my parents, who had learned psychology in college and had worked with kids. I was terrified of noise, but didn’t let my fear show. I learned not to flap my fingers in public. Girls do hide their autism well.

    Love this post because it’s so informative and accurate. Now I see why I haven’t been successful with relationship with men all my life.

    And I relate to the empathy part. Many things bother me, like abuse in old age homes and foster homes, seeing on the news a rape victim who got intimidated in court by the rapist’s brother in front of the judge and policeman, who did nothing, illegal aliens taken from their spouses and small children to be deported, and many others. I read somewhere that a study reveals that autistic people have more empathy than neurotypicals.

  19. Marion Pennell says

    Thanks Michael, and HI Aspie Girl!!
    Because my empathy is not always directed at the members of my immediate circle, some people find it strange. When the Rwanda massacres were happening it would be one little paragraph on like page 10… I was so distressed! and wondering why the world didn’t seem to care (no oil, no gold, no diamonds…) People laugh at empathy. People mock those who want social justice. Imagine what they would do to Jesus in this day and age!!
    I have empathy for animals. I try to see it from their point of view instead of anthropomorphizing them. (BTW Nala was Simba’s sister.) I do not think they exist just for us to exploit. I know we farm animals for food but I don’t think we have to be so cruel about it. A farm animal should have many good days, one bad day.
    Once I asked a trusted male friend why men didn’t want me as a girlfriend. He told me that men do not like women that are smarter than they are. As far as I know there are no studies, and that was one man’s opinion.
    When men make their list of qualities they are looking for, it’s usually about how their potential mate would make their life easier. Were I to make a list, sharing activities and intellectual conversation would top the list. My lesbian friends have said it’s too bad I’m not gay, because the qualities men aren’t keen on, the women seem to love.

    p.s. I have a problem with laundromats. I don’t eat at McDonalds, because reasons. Everybody come to Montreal!

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