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Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism

Monday, December 19, 2022

Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism (2018) edited by Barb Cook & Michelle Garnett

Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of AutismA collection of essays where autistic women describe life from a female autistic perspective, and present empowering, helpful and supportive insights from their personal experience for fellow autistic women.

Prologue: Barb Cook
Chapter 1: Finding Your Tribe by Maura Campbell
Chapter 2: Growing up on the Spectrum by Jen Elcheson and Barb Cook
Chapter 3: Identity: A Beautiful Work in Progress by ARtemisia
Chapter 4: Diversity, Gender, Intersectionality, and Feminism by Catriona Stewart
Chapter 5: Personal Relationships by Jen Elcheson and Anita Lesko
Chapter 6: Socializing, Anxiety, and Addictions by Barb Cook
Chapter 7: Personal Safety Liane by Holliday Willey
Chapter 8: A Real Parent by Samantha Craft
Chapter 9: Independence by Barb Cook
Chapter 10: Promoting Positive Employment by Jeanette Purkis
Chapter 11: Our Sensory Worlds by Kate Ross, Jen Elcheson, and Barb Cook
Chapter 12: Communication by Becca Lory
Chapter 13: Emotional Regulation by Renata Jurkévythz
Chapter 14: Executive Functioning by Terri Mayne, Maura Campbell, and Kate Ross
Chapter 15: General Health by Kate Ross and Anita Lesko
Chapter 16: Autism and Co-Occurring Conditions by Anita Lesko
Chapter 17: Considering Autistic Life and Mental Wellness by Dena Gassner
Chapter 18: Self-Care by Becca Lory, Catriona Stewart
Chapter 19: Intense Interests by Christine Jenkins with Renata Jurkévythz
Chapter 20: And Another Thing…

Why would a collection of essays written by autistic women for autistic women be important?

Autism as a diagnostic category is historically recent. In the early 1960s, Lorna Wing conceptualized autism as a spectrum, brought the work of Hans Asperger to world attention and created the diagnosis of Asperger syndrome for individuals not otherwise learning-disabled or speech-delayed. Even although autistic women (who once were girls) have been “out there” in full public view over the years, autism has long been thought of as a “male condition.” Autistic females have been invisible in terms of recognition, research, strategic planning, and service provision.

Because women are consistently under-diagnosed with ASD and ADHD, many not receiving their diagnoses until well into adulthood.

Unfortunately, too many adolescent girls and young women on the spectrum have collected many mental health labels prior to being accurately diagnosed with having an ASD. These labels may include, but are not limited to, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, dissociative disorder, schizotypal disorder, social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc. An unfortunate consequence of this experience can be to align with psychopathology and to interpret one’s self only in the context of dysfunction.

This collection, at the time I read it, was a bit hit-and-miss. There is a lot of ground covered here, on a variety of topics, some of which were not relevant to me at the time, but might be later.

However, many chapters focused on the inter-sectionality of ASD/ADHD and depression/anxiety. This is important because for many, neurodiversity was misdiagnosed as mental illness.

Dealing with persistent anxiety, too much socializing, and overwhelming sensory experiences on a daily basis with no concession or understanding from others is a recipe for exhaustion. Exhaustion leads to depression and a lack of emotional regulation.

I found the discussion on Executive Functioning to be particularly helpful, as the descriptions in other books only confused me.

Executive functioning is generally seen as a group of abilities that allow you to manage your thoughts, emotions, and actions in order to get things done. It is responsible for skills such as organizing and planning, initiating and managing tasks, paying attention, regulating emotions, and self-monitoring (keeping track of what you’re doing and modifying your behavior accordingly).

And how it might manifest.

I often found that I understood the concept of what was being asked, but what the first step should be and how to make my mind or body actually take it was overwhelming.

I found the ways ADHD can manifest in women to be especially helpful.

  • poor ability to shift attention when required
  • difficulty transitioning to a new problem or a new solution
  • being easily distracted
  • hyperfocus (over focus on one topic, activity, or detail)
  • poor concentration, except when the topic is novel or of high interest
  • difficulties prioritizing tasks or building a sequence
  • problems getting started without a prompt
  • impulsivity
  • difficulties summarizing and discerning important information from less relevant information
  • poor short-term memory (memory for what happened in the preceding seven seconds)
  • poor working memory (ability to keep information in mind while working on it)
  • poor self-reflection, including about one’s own strengths and weaknesses, and how to improve next time.

This is a collection I will need to reread as I continue to learn more about my diagnoses and discover how I have been working around my symptoms for my entire life.

Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Rating: 8/10


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