Rethink autism: a student’s view

Rethink autism: a student’s view

Do girls and boys experience autism differently? Should we challenge labels used to describe autism, such as ‘high-functioning’?

During Autism Awareness Week, Student Mollieann Jeacott who has an autism and ADHD diagnosis, shared her answers online among the College’s staff and student community.

“Autism is nonbinary and it has been forced into a box by outdated labels,” she said.

“Many people with autism believe the ‘functioning’ labels are harmful and would prefer the use of autistic instead of ‘high-functioning autism’.

“Using these labels to describe people's abilities is dangerous because it leads those helping them to think within the box of what is expected for someone that is either "low-functioning" or "high-functioning".

“Functioning labels fit autism into a box, if you are ‘high-functioning’ you are less likely to get the help deserved and needed as most people assume it isn’t bad.”

Mollieann was diagnosed with autism at 16, leaving Denton Community College due to the difficulties she faced two years previously. Statistics show three time more boys are diagnosed with autism than girls and Mollieann explains some may mask the signs.

She said: “Little girls were reported to be more likely than boys to mimic others in social situations and to want to fit in with other kids. Girls control their emotions better at school, where they act far differently than they do at home, according to several studies of children with autism and average-range IQ.

“Teachers are much less likely to voice concerns about girls than boys. Common masking techniques in females are forcing yourself to make eye contact during conversations; preparing jokes or phrases ahead of time to use in conversation; mimicking the social behaviour of others, simulating expressions and gestures.”

According to research, girls with autism do not show repetitive behaviour patterns like boys with the diagnosis. Special interests girls have may be seen as atypical of their gender.

Mollieann shares advice to look out for the use of ‘social scripts’ during conversations, which have been rehearsed in order to cope with social interactions, and to look out for behaviour that imitates other people, possibly copied from TV drama as well as struggling with mainstream responses and behaviours.

Mollieann, who is now studying GCSEs and IT, with plans to move onto a higher level IT course next year, added: “I think College is very inclusive for people with autism and is very understanding. I hope students become more aware and understanding of what their peers may experience and be able to recognise the possibility of autism within themselves if they relate.”

The College has a range of support for students listed on our Learner Services webpage, which is personalised by learning facilitators drawing on our network of community partners. On enrollment, every student receives a pastoral mentor in addition to a course tutor to assist with your needs.

Head of Inclusion for the College, Helen Redman, said: "We are proud to share insights of students with experience of autism with our staff and students to get people talking about the rich diversity of people have within our College community. We welcome feedback from students like Mollieann in helping us to shape the future of our interactions, lessons and learning environment."

Image credit: Vecteezy.com