Girls with autism are often misdiagnosed, but a new graphic novel aims to put them in the picture
At secondary school, they become the “leftover girls”, drifting, alienated and often miserably lonely because the other teenage girls won’t accept them. It’s not that autistic girls don’t want friends – they are as desperate for friends as any teenager – but in a world which denies, rejects and ignores them, they are simply not wired to understand the only social role available to them: that of a neurotypical girl living an ordinary life.
Dr Sarah Bargiela wants to reach these girls. With illustrator Sophie Standing, she has written Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women, a graphic novel that transforms the growing mass of dry, scholarly research on autism and women into intriguing science facts and moving personal accounts.
“There’s loads of autistic research on women, but it’s written exclusively for research communities,” says Bargiela, a clinical psychologist and design researcher who completed her doctoral research at University College London, specialising in the study of Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) in women. “My interest is encapsulated in a single experience: meeting a 10-year-old girl who didn’t tick enough criteria for diagnosis, but was clearly autistic,” she says. “I felt a huge sense of injustice. What opportunity was this little girl going to have to tell her stories other than in a clinician’s room – and she wasn’t believed there. She’d just have to go through life believing she was what other people called ‘weird’ but without knowing why. I want to celebrate autism,” she continues. “Some of the autistic women I interviewed are incredibly successful in their professional life because of their dedication to a special interest they’ve pursued, be it in academia, the arts or athletics. We need to appreciate what neurodiversity can offer.”
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