Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Asperger’s, Autism, and Adult Women

For a long time, the autism media focus has been about young boys with Asperger’s and autism. But lately I’m noticing more of a focus on women with autism and Asperger’s. I’ve talked about women on the autism spectrum briefly, especially how tough it is to find information about how women and girls are impacted. Although the media stories or TV interviews may be poorly done, and the information can be misleading, I think this increasing media attention is a good thing because it can help bring down some of the stereotypes and raise awareness that autism and Asperger’s are not strictly about young males.
Glamour magazine, March 2009, ran a story “They’re Autistic - And They’re In Love” where they depicted Dave Hamrick and Lindsey Nebeker, who both have autism diagnoses. The story tends to play into the stereotypes, and doesn’t address much about the strengths that can come along with the diagnosis. But, it does tell about a positive relationship that seems to work for the couple. It also shows how adults can bypass all the limitations that medical professionals may predict about children. The article states that Hamrick’s parents were told he would never be able to work or live alone. Now he’s a college graduate who majored and works in meteorology.
America’s Next Top Model ran this season with a contestant, Heather Kuzmich, who says she was diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 15. I don’t watch this show, so I don’t have much to say about it. You can find a truly dreadful You Tube interview with Kuzmich. She’s does a good job on the interview, but the interviewer seems so uninformed and uncomfortable about the topic of Asperger’s, it’s a bit difficult to watch.
Finally, everybody has probably heard about Mary McDonnell on Grey's Anatomy as Dr. Virginia Dixon, a cardiac surgeon with Asperger's. I’ve only seen one episode of this character, but I got some idea of how the character was depicted.  It’s a shame that the portrayal is so broad and the character doesn’t seem to be coping as well as one would expect of a person who made it through medical school. Still, it does present the idea that Asperger’s and autism are a part of a spectrum and some individuals with Asperger’s are extremely successful professionally.
The media has a long way to go in showing all the aspects of the autism spectrum. These depictions of women are certainly flawed, but they do raise the visibility of women with the condition. They also start to present a more balanced picture, that autism is not a condition that affects only male children, and that some individuals with autism or Asperger’s can be very successful. I look forward to the day that the interviewers ask these successful individuals about how Asperger’s or autism contributed to their success.