Two women holding a sign that says "Weird kids wanted" with white lights around their arms.

Finding Adult Autistic Women in the Media: A Unicorn Hunt5 min read

I’m featured on the right, with my co-host Miyuki at https://www.weirdkidswanted.com!

Sometimes, I feel like a unicorn, and it’s never in the fun way. 

As an adult female autistic who runs a podcast and media outlet, I am what our media would present as a depressingly-rare convergence of traits.  In fact, trying to find even one depiction of a grown autistic woman in the media is so akin to hunting for a mythical beast, that I sometimes wonder if the world knows I exist.

Adequate, respectful media representations of autistic people are lacking as it is, but the ones that do exist are often of boys and young men.  This infantilizing, sexist portrayal of a very diverse community leaves autistic women and nonbinary folk with no icons to form their identities around, against, or askew to. 

I was not born empowered enough to proffer myself as the solution to this problem.

In fact, I spent much of my youth feeling like there was a good reason why people like me weren’t highly visible, a sentiment that it hurts me to even remember.  Granted, at the time I didn’t realize I was autistic.

I was mainly responding to my sensory issues and social shortcomings.  I would internally berate myself for not knowing how to respond in certain social settings or for unintentionally pacing, twisting my hair, and flapping my hands in overwhelming situations. 

According to the mainstream media, you just chanced upon a mythical creature, known as a grown woman with autism.  Congrats.

In retrospect, I was and am a pretty standard diagnosis for what was formerly called Asperger’s.  In fact, I underwent generalized psychological testing as a child, but the test practitioner concluded that, despite meeting the other qualifications, I am not on the spectrum because I am very gregarious, and “it’s unlikely for females to have autism.”

We know now– and I’m pretty sure then– that people with autism can be friendly and talkative. 

We also know now that many women with autism go without diagnosis, primarily because they don’t always fit classic symptoms and are better at hiding the symptoms they do have. 

There is a basic gender bias in the medical community, including a male-centric diagnostic model for autism.  Also, girls with autism are frequently less overt in their symptom presentation and more capable of socialization. 

In any case, this results in there being very few girls and nonbinary folk with autism in the media. 

Additionally, everyone is so obsessed with autistic children and teens that depictions of adults with autism are pretty rare as well.  However, the focus on autistic children almost makes it seem like we never grow up and become successful adults– like we just disappear.

Even when an autistic adult is featured, they’re usually presented as some sort of anomaly, like in The Good Doctor, and Rain Man, or just a burden.  It’s infantilizing and hurtful. 

Because I never saw myself in the media, my process of understanding and accepting my identity was grueling.  The goal of my podcast, Weird Kids Wanted, is to ensure that no one else experiences the same arduous journey to self-acceptance. 

Our mascot, Gertrude the Bat!

My co-host Miyuki and I created Weird Kids Wanted as a rebellious response to mainstream media’s commercialized choke-hold on the literary and film scenes.  Weird Kids Wanted is a literary and social criticism podcast for the alternative community- and any way that you find yourself in the word “alternative” is fine by us.

We are both nerds, alt girls, goth punks or punk goths, writers, artists, queers, neuro-atypicals, and misfits.  Many of the conversations preluding the creation of our podcast centered around how disgusted we were with the Rupi Karr-reading, cashmere sweater-wearing, chai tea-sipping, neurotypical people who seemed at the forefront of media curation, recommending the same ten blasé books.

Where were the real lovers of language, of daring film decisions, of challenging thoughts?  Where were the women like us?

I have lived my entire life as “the weird girl,” a title that started off debilitatingly hurtful… until I found the power in it.  For years, I struggled to be like everyone else.  But, after a particularly bad year of bullying in the sixth grade, I realized that almost everyone else in my class sucked!

They were neurotypical and conformist, sure, but being normal also translated to being limited as to what they could wear, like, read, watch, say, do, and who they could be friends with.  They seemed to operate on an unkind hive mind that sought to persecute anyone who wasn’t like them.  I realized that I didn’t want to be like them. 

This is us “disturbing the hive mind” by nonchalantly leaning against a brick wall.  We do other study, too, though…

Now, even after receiving my “soft diagnosis” (Read: I think you have autism, but diagnosing you at your age will be a burden on your medical record rather than a qualifier for you to receive resources), I still have zero desire to assimilate into the norm.  Granted, autism provides me with challenges at work, in relationships, and in life every day.

But it’s a part of me, and I love all of myself. 

People think that autistic people want to be neurotypical.  They think that anyone different wants to be the same as everyone else.  It’s as if our identity as atypical people is just a stain on our medical histories, or a grade school, name-calling prison sentence that ends upon reaching adulthood.  But, for me, being weird equates to being free

Free from societal constraints.

Free from fashion, relationship, career, and intellectual rules that don’t suit me. 

Free from reading, watching, and thinking the same things as everyone else. 

The only problem is, our culture is designed for people who exist inside the box of normalcy.  Weird Kids Wanted strives to welcome weird kids, young and old, into a community curated for them, full of books, movies, and conversations that are unique, bizarre, and perfect for them! 

You can listen to our episode about neuro-divergence in film and media at our website, weirdkidswanted.com, or on Soundcloud and Stitcher.  We also have a “Neuro-divergence in Film and Media” reading list that is open to the public to contribute to. 

Editor’s note: Content warning – gratuitous and delightfully-irreverent use of profanity and adult content in the podcast.  Discretion is advised.  It is also advised that discretion is over-rated.

https://soundcloud.com/weirdkidswanted/weird-kids-wanted-episode-2-the-neurodivergent-books-and-movies-episode

Our goal is to create a world free from boring, commercialized, and mainstream media.  A world just for us.

 

7 Comments

  1. I doubt that most autistic adult women would provide interesting fare for the media.  *Real* adult men wouldn’t be that interesting either.  What the media wants — and creates, if it can’t find it — is the quirkiness, the oddity that can make people laugh.  Unfortunately for the media, real people, whether autistics or NTs, are just going about their normal, boring lives.

  2. Hello, I am also a unicorn.  Nice to meet you!  😉

  3. For the record, Disney’s Moana is definitely autistic even though she is not named as such – seriously, one of Moana’s comments is said in exactly the same way an autistic boy at my special ed school would have said it (a boy who I last saw as a teenager, and Moana is a teenager).  And it also happens that Moana’s grandma, Grandma Tala, is autistic and the way she dances by the ocean is as much stim as it is dance (and of course a grandma is an adult).  And of course, that would be why Moana and her grandma relate so easily – both have the same neurology, only one is old and the other is a teenager.  And it happens that the grandma exhibits another autism sign not listed in the DSM but mentioned by autistic writers – that of speaking in a way that mixes more formal and casual patterns in non-oral ways, but doing that as a normal manner of speaking.  And Grandma Tala exhibits that sign very strongly – she consistently either combines formal speech with casual mannerisms, or casual speech with more formal and reverent mannerisms.  And she does the casual/formal mixing even more consistently than Moana does.

    The only disadvantage to that particular example is that the autism isn’t officially named.  But it is obvious to many autistic people, including me.

  4. Hey Zoe, I really appreciated this post.  I have a 25 year old daughter on the spectrum and so much of what you said resonated with me.  She just got her first screenwriting credits, co-writing two episodes of the animated BBC kids show Pablo, which is aimed at and produced, in part, by people on the spectrum.

    1. I’m so glad my article resonated with you!  Im glad this show exists in the UK and that your daughter is screenwriting on it- screenwriting is one of the things I would love to do professionally one day, having taken a lot of screenwriting classes in my Creative Writing Bachelor’s program.  I’ll definitely check the show out!

  5. What is so interesting when I read your article, is that only about 3-4 years ago I decided to love and embrace my weirdness, my difference that I thought was just cultural!!! 
    So thanks for I am self diagnosed as of 2 months ago as an aspie (Aspergers) and have 4 little aspergers with only one diagnosed (the alpha male..) My youngest when she suggested it had the whole school laughing at her – teachers etc and this was a special school for ‘gifted’ kids…..
    We are so behind in France tis uncanny, scary and down right pathetic.
    So thanks for being You both.

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