Where are all the autistic mothers?
Disclaimer: my experiences and views do not necessarily represent those of all autistic parents.
Hang on. Do you see this type of cautionary clause every time a neurotypical parent writes an article?
Certainly not. But I feel compelled to do so because Schematic Processing has a lot to answer for. Schemas are networks of meaning we map around a word or concept, in a way that helps us make sense of a word. Because autistic parents are so rarely represented publicly, for example in the media, it would be easy for someone informing themselves on the subject to take this post a lot more fundamentally than I intend. Ideally this will serve as a satellite of information, orbiting around a planet of your own research (bear with me, my metaphors can be a bit of a reach sometimes!).
So, where are they? Where are all the autistic parents?
Under-diagnosed? Unaware? Hiding?
I'm amazing at 'Where's Wally?' so it can't be that.
But they sure aren't making it into the news nearly as much as Autism Parents. The answer is complex and therefore one that changes from person to person.
I feel the need to acknowledge my privilege here: I'm a formally educated,white, cis woman from a supportive family and a happy marriage. That last sentence alone explains how I've mostly avoided a lot of the hurdles that would otherwise be pretty insurmountable e.g. isolation, low self-esteeem, discrimination, cultural resistance to psychological issues, barriers to learning and employment, physical safety, reliable accommodation, the list goes on but it isn't my place to discuss this further here.
According to the National Autistic Society:
"70% of autistic adults say they are not getting the help they need from social services."
This is a big contributor to autistic parents not feeling secure enough to have their voices heard. If your basic needs are not being met you're unlikely to feel like your voice is valued.
Another cause could be the legacy of 'Childhood Autism' diagnoses over previous decades. From my observations, many people were told their child would 'grow out of ' their autism. There may be a community of autistic people who believe they cured themselves of their neurotype.
There's also a very large number of women who have missed diagnosis altogether, simply because they don't fit a particular doctor's mental image of an autistic person. This image is often underpinned by Hans Asperger's work (whose observations were based on little boys) and the more contemporary idea from Simon Baron Cohen of the 'Extreme Male Brain' being the root cause of autism.
Gender continues to play a role when considering the issue of the invisibility of autistic parents and mothers to the mainstream. Women often 'mask' socially, so are more difficult to diagnose by current criteria. This is a well-known fact in our community.
However, I believe the fact it is expected of women to experience burnout, from 'trying to have it all' helps camofulage true autistic burnout:
Not being able to communicate much with friends or family, becoming withdrawn, sticking to rigid self-imposed routines and having hyper-focus (often our new children) becomes 'normal mother behaviour'. An indirect type of autism erasure happens at this point in our lives. Only through persisting with better education about autism as adults can we reverse this flow of consciousness that autism waxes and wanes throughout our lifespan.
Despite the tide being against us, there are glimmers of hope that are blindingly beautiful. Take social media, for example. Twitter is a place to be expressive, to debate, to laugh and to connect. For 140 characters that's quite a mean feat.
Instagram can prove a useful observation deck for culture or a gallery space for your favourite snaps. There's a freedom online that gives confidence to autistic parents who can otherwise tend to feel excluded. Through these platforms, and likely ones that haven't been invented yet, I hope we continue to shine a light on autistic parents and hear their true voices.