We speak with parents who have girls every day and they often tell us that people just “don’t get it”. Girls who are struggling socially present differently than boys. They are often masters at “small talk” and are not shy about introducing themselves to new people and chatting with acquaintances. However, as time passes, they struggle to get deeper into their relationships. They don’t understand the next steps. For other girls, their social enthusiasm can be a turn-off to peers as some girls insert themselves into social situations at inopportune times or in a way that seems “off topic” or “odd”. For this reason, girls are often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed, leaving them without support for far too long.
I recently listened to an older Australian radio interview (http://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/conversations/dr-tony-attwood-turns-his-focus-to-women-with-aspergers/7756374 ) with Dr. Tony Atwood – guru of all things Aspergers and an outstanding clinician and lecturer – about girls on the Spectrum. He pointed out that often times girls do not present as a “problem” until the social scene in school becomes more complicated. We hear about this frequently. All children – but girls especially – blend in with their peers at a young age. As kids get older, the discrepancy with their peers broadens and the struggles become more apparent. Dr. Atwood also mentioned that girls are often good “actors” and are better able to “play the role” that they may see on TV or in movies. After some time – even after school at home – “the exhaustion of wearing that mask catches up” to them and they begin to really struggle.
He stated that what is most important for girls on the spectrum is to BRING THEM TOGETHER so that they can be with other people who “speak the same language” and so they can relate to one another and recognize they are not alone. They will learn that “their suffering comes from the ignorance of others”, not from a flaw in themselves. When I heard him say this, I became emotional – this is why Eric and I are so passionate about what we do. We believe firmly that bringing the right group of children together each summer is what is so transformative. Allowing our campers to support each other and to share their own struggles is what makes Akeela so magical. Having Dr. Atwood confirm this is just the icing on the cake!