You learn to be yourself all your life. This goes for everyone. Even more if you are a girl with Asperger’s syndrome and you have always felt different and therefore wrong. But the truth is that there is no mistake. That’s why, when the diagnosis comes, most of the time it’s experienced as a liberation. It was like that for both Delia Michi21 years old from Sesto Fiorentino, who for Monica Donà, 54 years old from Verona. Both on the spectrum. But finding out is not easy and the path that leads to the diagnosis is often long and tortuous, especially for girls.
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The case of Delia
Delia and Monica are the expression of how Asperger’s can express itself in radically different ways. “If you know an autistic person you don’t know autism,” he says Delia, blue eyes and a cascade of curly hair on the shoulders. She was diagnosed when she was 13 years old. The insight came from watching the sitcom The Big Bang Theory. “I really liked the character of Sheldon– says Delia -. Going to read articles about him I discovered that he was associated with characteristics that an autistic person could have. And delving into the subject I noticed that both my mother and I had traits similar to the syndrome Asperger, then actually diagnosed to both. I finally understood who I was and I could work to have fewer and fewer difficulties”.
A Monica Donà, a physiotherapist specializing in respiratory rehabilitation, was 49 years old when diagnosed with the syndrome. After years of suffering, depression and a gambling addiction. While Asperger’s is not a disease, it can create discomfort and disability. “I couldn’t find a place, a placement and I suffered for it – explains Monica, sweet eyes behind a pair of oversized glasses -. I’ve always felt a little different. Unlike the stereotype of the autistic, I am a social animal, but my ways have always been strange. I was considered the messed up one, awkward, awkward. I tried to conform but it was tiring for me.”
Delia Michi instead she is a loner and had a little more difficulty integrating. “In the early days at school, sociability was very difficult – she says. Then I found people more similar to me and it went better”. And when you ask them if it’s true that Aspergers understand each other better, the answer is unanimous. “It is clear that we are all different people – explains Delia – but we have common difficulties and affinities. If I’m with an asperger friend in a lighted room and he doesn’t respond to me already I know he does because he’s having sensory issues and not because he’s mad at me.”
Monica instead he developed strategies to manage the ability to perceive all stimuli more strongly. “In the morning when I take the train to go to work I always wear headphones to muffle noise and stimuli” she says. Often women on the spectrum they may have difficulty identifying with their gender and feel more than others the weight of social or role stereotypes. “I’ve never been what society asked me to be. I’m not particularly emotional and even in relationships I’ve always been the one with the strongest personality. For years the boys treated me like one of their own. The first relationships served to get to know myself” says Delia who has now been in a stable relationship for 3 years.
Monica also felt incompatible with the expectations of the traditional female role: “I don’t have a female pattern although I like men. In love I have had toxic relationships for years. It’s easier to take advantage of a woman with Asperger’s because she’s more naïve than the others. Now I prefer to be single”. Certainly safety is a huge issue for women who cannot stand up for themselves. “Many have reported experiences of unhealthy relationships and emotional, physical and sexual abuse due to passivity or social naivety and a desire to feel accepted,” she explains David Vagni, researcher of the Institute for Biomedical Research and Innovation of the CNR, vice president of the Spazio Asperger Onlus association, scientific director of CuoreMenteLab.
But women, in the diverse world of autism, are different from birth. Already at 6 months, in fact, they show a different social orientation from males and often remain “invisible” girls because the diagnostic criteria fail to intercept them. They often grow up not knowing they are autistic. Studies, however, have shown that this happens more in the Spectrum range where there is a higher IQ.
“Females have been seen to exhibit a more attention to social goals, including faces, compared to males – explains David Vagni -. Females in early childhood have increased attention to socially relevant stimuli. This heightened focus may serve as a female protective factor with respect to ASD, providing greater access to social experiences early in development.” This instinctive attention, however, could be a trigger for what is termed masking. “People on the Spectrum, particularly those cognitively more adept, tend to develop strategies of coping in response to interventions and social pressure aimed at complying with society’s demands – explains David Vagni -. One such strategy is the camouflage. Examples of camouflage include actively attempting to make eye contact despite resulting discomfort, using a preconceived script to help manage a conversation, alter the volume of speechmimic the effect of prosody and non-verbal language, including gestures and facial expressions, and actively dose and quantify the level of social distance to be maintained in the various communicative exchanges”.
What is camouflage
The camouflage in women it is a widespread but not universal behavior. In fact, pretending to be normal has a very high cost. “The cognitive and emotional effort is exhausting and the sense of identity can be compromised making it more fragile to the manipulations of others – continues the scientific director of CuoreMente Lab -. The purpose of camouflage is be accepted, conform and hide one’s diversity. This is accomplished by outwardly mimicking a typical behavior and hiding one’s own autism. To do this, the person is based on social rules, often rigid, and experiences anxiety and frustration”.
Differences from boys
But the differences compared to the boys are not only these. “Other characteristics that are more frequently found in women on the Spectrum are the tendency towards perfectionisma greater variability in gender identityand a higher frequency of eating disorders, anxiety and depression – explains Vagni -. Unlike traditional narrow-minded interests in inanimate or technical objects, many females tend to have narrow-minded interests in people and animals.”
Embrace neurodiversity it provides acceptance and understanding. “Do not be afraid of the diagnosis – concludes Monica Donà -. It allows you to go on a journey, bring out your potential better and reduce all the reasons for stress “.