If you’re a researcher or a neurotypical, it seems to be accepted fact that there are vastly more male autistics than female. If you’re a female autistic, I suspect you sometimes wonder, as I do, if the ratio might be a lot closer to 50:50. As a female autistic you are likely to know the ways we hide, the many small concealments, the ways we twist ourselves up to conform to outside expectations.
I want to take one small part of this assumption, that men are much more likely to be systematisers than women, and that this contributes to/is evidence of the preponderance of men on the spectrum.
Systematising, of course, is taken to be things like collecting train numbers, or dates, or focusing on mathematical progressions, or engineering with extreme precision. Of course, if you assume that systematising is a male thing, then you look for ways in which males systematise, you are unlikely to notice anything outside your predetermined focus. And if you also undervalue the things that women value (something that many, if not most, men do) then your implicit bias leaves you unable to make even a basic attempt at researching this aspect of autism
Women as systematisers:
Women as engineers – complexity, calculation and extensive periods of concentration:
Women as collectors:
1. Jane Wang
Now I am not implying that anyone depicted here is on the spectrum. but it’s not hard to find plenty of ways in which female systematising is as common as male. Women are too often constrained by the expectations of culture, and their systematising impulses dismissed as unimportant or not even noticed.
When I was a child I rewrote natural history guidebooks. Anything that had lists of plants or animals, I rewrote obsessively, poring over distinguishing details, learning latin names, obsessing at how things were divided. By the age of ten I understood phyla, families, species and the detail of taxonomic division. I knew every breed of guinea pig, cat, mouse and rabbit and for many could list the points for which they would be judged at breed shows.
Yet I never see this kind of systematising listed in childhood criteria for ASD. I don’t see my alphabetically organised 4000 book novel collection, my large colour organised fabric collection, or my need to collect and grow every type of aquilegia considered as a systematising impulse as an adult.
I’m sure there are many other examples that my own narrow focus prevents me from recognising. And I think it’s about time that researchers took a long look at their own cultural and gender blinkers, and considered that there might be more to ASD than things men are interested in.