Women in Autism, Research Autism conference, London

I am currently sat in a conference about Women and Autism, set in International Women’s Week.
Being an adult female with autism doesn’t normally bother me. I would go as far as to say I love being me. My autism gives me a perspective on the world that helps me make better sense of things than people around me.
However today I feel my autism.
The conference opened with a welcome by Deepa Korea. Deepa is the Chief Executive of Research Autism, and has an extensive past with public and private bodies.
Professor Terrry Brugha gave an interesting talk about the research he has been leading into identifying autism in the general female population. They began by screening about 7500 randomly assigned households with a questionnaire based on popular autism diagnosis questions. A subset scoring higher than a cutoff were then questioned again with a more targeted questionnaire. The research found that the incidence of autism in the general population as tested with these standard tests does tend to reflect the rates given in clinical settings with regards to per capita and gender ratio.
The second set of speakers were students and staff from the Limpsfield Grange school in Surrey. These strong and smart young girls are fortunate enough to be in a very special school indeed. This school accepts them as they are. They have made a video about being a girl on the spectrum, and how they feel they are different, but equal.
This video and the talk with it perfectly fielded by the young women reduced me to a quivering wreck. I lost all my coping strategies one by one as I contrasted their experiences with my own. Normally I can deal very well with public situations, but as I saw these vibrant, friendly, accepted individuals so content with their school and friendships and so positive about their autism I fell apart.
By the time the break came I was unable to even ask people to move out of the way so I could escape for a smoke. I lost the power to look at people, to articulate, to do anything other than stand frozen, surrounded by a hubbub of autism professionals looking like a scared rabbit looking for a bolt hole. Thankfully a young girl who I later found out was on the spectrum herself identified my issue, and said “excuse me” to create a gap for me. I ran through it to freedom, and only realised what she had done when I reached the quiet outside.
I tried to talk with her and her mum when I came back in, but I totally broke down. No one had ever done that for me before. No one saw, understood, and acted without a second thought.
It’s after lunch now, and several outbursts of quiet tears later, I am coping OK with the other talks.
Sometimes it takes a random act of kindness to reduce you to your core. But it has made such an impact that I will remember this girl for a long long time.

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