Girls and Autism - experts call for a re-think in education to address inequality and mental health issues

Monday, 04 November 2019

Girls and Autism

Girls and Autism was the focus of a conference and book launch at Oxford Brookes University on Tuesday 5 November 2019. The day was led by Professor Barry Carpenter CBE, editor of Girls and Autism, and supported by expert contributors.

Professor Carpenter’s book proposes that autism is often thought of as a predominantly ‘male’ disorder, therefore has long gone unidentified, unnoticed and unsupported in girls – sometimes with devastating consequences for their social and mental well-being.

Barry Carpenter, Visiting Professor at Oxford Brookes’ School of Education, commented:

“When I talk about Girls and Autism, I realise that we have got it wrong … badly wrong! What we know about autism is based on our knowledge of male autism, and the female profile is very different. Our assessment instruments are blunt and were developed on boys with autism. Schools have a major role to play in improving the lot of girls with autism, but fundamentally, this is a human rights and equality issue. We need to shine the light of these 'missed girls’ and give them the life opportunities they truly deserve.“

Barry Carpenter, Visiting Professor at Oxford Brookes’ School of Education

“When I talk about Girls and Autism, I realise that we have got it wrong … badly wrong!  What we know about autism is based on our knowledge of male autism, and the female profile is very different. Our assessment instruments are blunt and were developed on boys with autism. Schools have a major role to play in improving the lot of girls with autism, but fundamentally, this is a human rights and equality issue. We need to shine the light of these 'missed girls’ and give them the life opportunities they truly deserve.“ 

Book contributor and speaker at the conference Sarah-Jane Critchley has first hand experience as the mother of a young woman with autism. Sarah-Jane, who is also a teacher, sums up the biggest problems for autistic girls:

• Being missed, misdiagnosed with other conditions and misunderstood
• Thinking they are odd, wrong, or broken because they are different
• Masking and camouflaging and its impact on mental health, wellbeing and education
• Extreme vulnerability to exploitation unless taught explicitly

Another speaker at the conference, Katie Buckingham, has autism and experienced late diagnosis and mental health issues. She is now an award-winning young entrepreneur who runs Altruist Enterprises, providing training for organisations to manage stress more effectively. Katie has also delivered a TEDx Talk from Birmingham, on mental health.

Find out more about research, courses and activities in the Oxford Brookes University School of Education