Monday, November 24, 2008

girls with Asperger's

Here's something I missed last week in Newsweek:

Because they may have different symptoms than boys do, some girls with Asperger's syndrome don't get diagnosed

It's not uncommon for girls with Asperger's to go undiagnosed well into adulthood. Like heart disease, this high-functioning autism spectrum disorder is 10 times more prevalent in males, so doctors often don't think to look for it in females. But some experts have begun to suspect that unlike heart disease, Asperger's manifests differently, less obviously in girls, and that factor is also causing them to slip through the diagnostic cracks. This gender gap may have implications for the health and well-being of girls on the spectrum, and some specialists predict that as we diagnose more girls, our profile of the disorder as a whole will change. Anecdotally, they report that girls with Asperger's seem to have less motor impairment, a broader range of obsessive interests, and a stronger desire to connect with others, despite their social impairment.

It's got me thinking about sex difference in medicine. The first time I presented with the symptoms of MS, my doctor told me I was having a nervous breakdown. I said, 'Fuck you,' and flushed the tranquilisers he gave me down the toilet. The second time I was told I was stressed, and asked if I had problems at home. (I said, Yes, if too many girlfriends counted as a problem. Then I said, Fuck you.) This kind of stuff continued off and on for nearly ten years.

It took nearly ten years to get my MS diagnosis. Most of the women I've talked to tell me the same thing. I was lucky--I never believed for a second I was crazy. I know many (many) women who ended up on heavy-duty drugs and/or therapy and were convinced they were mad. The men I've talked to, on the other hand, were diagnosed briskly--in about half the time--and taken seriously from the beginning. (I have no data to support this statement. It's purely anecdotal.) Last year, I also came across an article fretting about the fact that fifty years ago the female/male ration of people with MS was 2:1 but is now 4:1. 'More women are getting MS in increasing numbers,' they said. I think they're wrong. I think more women are now getting the right diagnosis, especially young women.

Many of women's complaints have historically been dismissed as hysteria. It's particularly easy to do that with uncertain teenage girls. Now doctors--many of them women--are finally learning to listen, finally beginning to see women and girls as reasoning human beings.

There still a long way to go, of course, but I'm curious about readers' thoughts and experience. How do doctors treat you?

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