“Copy & Paste’ – Hidden Asperger’s– Girls with Aspergers | Niamh McCann | TEDxDunLaoghaire

Translator: Leonardo Silva
Reviewer: Raissa Mendes What do you think
when you hear this phrase: “He bent over backwards”? Or this: “She was on the ball”? What you probably
didn’t imagine was this. Or maybe this. The English language is full
of colorful expressions, metaphors, slang, and we use these in the conversations
that we have every day. For 99% of the population, it’s a comfortable means of communication. For the remaining 1%, however, all that colorfulness
is not only uncomfortable, but extremely confusing. And not only because people
bend over backwards or are on the ball, but because a simple wink
can have different meanings in different contexts. And sometimes, a friend will say something
to another friend which sounds like an insult, but it makes them laugh instead of cry. Who are these people
who see funny pictures of flexible men or who can’t understand sarcasm? These people have a condition
called Asperger’s syndrome, which is a type
of high-functioning autism. Now usually, when I say “autism” and I ask people
what they understand by it, they tell me it looks
something like this, your quirky genius type, stimming, bouncing, flapping, rocking, or my personal favorite: restricted interests. Yes, it is true that there are people
with Asperger’s who display these traits. It is also true that these
are only stereotypes and a small part of the entire picture. If Asperger’s were
as easy to spot as this, then there would be
no problem at all in diagnosing it. Unfortunately, Asperger’s, like life,
is far more complicated. And if you’re a girl with Asperger’s,
things get even more tricky because all the diagnostic tools
that professionals use were designed to spot Asperger’s in boys. Now, this gender bias leaves
thousands of Asperger girls undiagnosed, unsupported, sometimes even after
they’ve taken the test. My younger brother was diagnosed
as being on the spectrum when he was three and a half. His autism was obvious, or stereotypical. He was late to talk, he bounced and flapped his hands, and he wouldn’t make eye contact. My parents took him
to get an assessment done. Within two months, he was diagnosed, and the proper supports
were put in place to help him. Fast-forward eight years,
and he’s doing just great. And then, there was me. I didn’t bounce, I didn’t flap. I was a shy but diligent student, I got good grades
and I didn’t cause trouble. But what I did do
was hide under the table and cover my ears at lunchtime because the noise of my chatting peers
was too much for me to cope with. I was quiet, I let others make up the rules
of the games we played, and I shared my sparkly pens
when no one else would. And it took 14 years for anyone
to notice that I was struggling, desperately. For many high-functioning girls,
it takes even longer. Why is this? Shouldn’t our confusion
around other people be obvious to our teachers, our friends, let alone our parents? And what I find is that there is a very
simple, if unfortunate, reason for this. It’s because of something we do to cope. We do it subconsciously, but it results in us
camouflaging our autistic traits, and it is called “masking”. Asperger girls are usually
bright and sensitive, and when we’re younger, we use these qualities to achieve
a kind of superficial social competence. Like detectives, we watch, and we listen, and we try to make sense
of the things people do and why they do them. It’s a hard job. It’s exhausting. We work both day and night shifts. The clues often lead us wrong. But we don’t have any other choice, because it’s our means of coping in a world which is
so socially confusing to us. When I was younger, I would mimic
my favorite cartoon characters: their way of walking, the words they used and how they spoke to one another. I absorbed this information and then applied it
to my social interactions, almost like copying and pasting. But I quickly learned
that life is not a cartoon, people are not characters
who behave predictably, and imitation can only take
an Asperger girl so far. By the time they reach adolescence, trust me, they are mentally exhausted
and emotionally wrecked. Social relationships become
so much more complicated, and for an Asperger girl, every conversation becomes
like a math problem. And I remind you here
that we are not all quirky genius types. I managed to mask
my Asperger’s for 14 years, and then, I crashed. The loving people in my life
rushed in to help. And one day, I found myself
sitting in a room with two occupational psychologists, a bag of feathers, thumbtacks and a book about flying frogs. This apparently was the ADOS test, the standardized test
used to identify autism, the same test that my brother took
seven years previously. They set me some simple tasks, and they asked me questions
about my life, my family, my interests. I responded to these
in the only way that I knew how: by copying and pasting the correct answer. So I smiled, I shook hands, I gave eye contact, as I knew I was supposed to. I’m not sure what the story with the flying frogs
was meant to tell anyone about me, but apparently it told them
that I wasn’t on the autistic spectrum. In fact, I scored a zero. I failed. I “really, really, really”
didn’t have autism. But it wasn’t me who had failed the test. It was the test that had failed me. And there are women in their thirties,
forties, fifties, and even older, who are only just getting diagnosed now, usually after identifying
their difficulties themselves by taking online quizzes. And this simply isn’t good enough. These women have spent
decades of their lives not understanding
a crucial part of themselves. They can end up
in the mental health system, being misdiagnosed
with mental health disorders, medicated and treated
for things they don’t have, and then suffering the consequences
and the complications of these medications. In a recent survey, 23% of girls with anorexia were
subsequently discovered to have autism. Twenty-three percent. A further 40% have
coexisting anxiety disorders. Countless more are being
treated for depression. And I wonder: how many of these girls might have been spared
these mental health difficulties had their underlying Asperger’s
been identified sooner? I got the correct diagnosis in the end; not through ADOS, but in spite of it. I am one of the lucky ones, and I don’t want any more girls
to slip through the net like I did. We need to become better
at identifying difficulties in girls, even if they’re subtle. We need an accurate and broader tool
to diagnose autism in all its many forms. Because autism is not black and white; it is a spectrum of color. And we need to open our eyes
to see all of it. Thank you. (Applause)

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. i am a male with aspergers and my fiance has it too but here's the big problem that people usually see. if your very good looking or athletic/muscular people tend to think your not an aspie because they expect you to be like rain man. apsergers does not have a particular look but severe autism can as many contort there faces from ticks. the funny thing is as a muscular guy i get people look at me weird like i'm lying when i say i have aspergers and because my IQ is very high. my biggest problem is the anxiety around other people as i have not got a single friend and avoid contact as people don't understand. i remember when i did have friends i did steal a little bit of there behaviour but as a grown man i have learnt to have my own personality being friendless. one thing i do notice with aspie girls as my fiance and sister both have, they tend to change there hair/color and look a lot. aspie girls are usually very quirky and overly talkative this can mask there shyness as the talking fast hides the anxiety.

  2. Great explaination- would like to point out that although aspergers is often divided into 'boy' and 'girl' types, there is of course crossover. It's just that girls seem to often be better at the social mimicking side that can hinder a diagnosis.

  3. it is fortunate that you can get two occupational shrinks to come help you the minute you had a problem and be able to talk about your triumph over the disease on a TED conference. Imagine you lived in africa

  4. i dont care so much about gender-things.
    But in medicine it is very important to differentiate between genders.
    She es so right about everything.

  5. I don’t mask. I’m proud to be autistic. I’m going to be autistic “out loud” my whole life no matter what anyone says!

  6. I took the test and had 34 I felt different all my life not being close to other kid and my parent that were telling me to act more like everyone else and teacher who thought I looked at them in an arrogant way and now that I probably have an answer they r just laughing at it

  7. When I was in primary school my teacher said: go take a walk (in portuguese) and I really left school, took a walk literally around the school and went back to school, everyone were like, wtf???

  8. When I began researching about Aspergers because of a former coworker (no longer works at my company) it all made sense and clicked. I always thought he seemed like a mimic, I don't know why I felt that way. Like I knew his actions weren't his own but he was just acting that way. I think if you're a very keen observers especially when it comes to human behavior you can spot when someone's mimic'ing if that makes sense. You're bound to catch their mimicry because at some point it won't make sense.

  9. Great speech. On point. I was diagnosed at 33 year old and it only came about when I took an online test because I was studying mental health at the time and I saw the symptoms of women’s with Asperger on another students presentation. I was gob smacked and everything came together. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression all these years.. obviously I still have anxiety and depression, but now I understand why I am the the way I am and also why I go hypo and can’t concentrate at times. Diagnosed with Hugh functioning Aspergers and ADHD. No more masking ever since. I’m proud of who I am today.

  10. Greta Thunberg believes the world is literally ending and no one is helping her, instead they are causing her more anxiety

  11. so when you complain about verbal abuse disguised as a joke they can falsely accuse you of being an asperger.

  12. i had an asperger bf. he said he doesnt care about my feelings. i was devastated. then he said he cares. i was devastated more that he is blatantly lying to me. then he flipped in this back and forth few times. i was shocked. then he asked "what am i supposed to say?" you hardly find a verbal abuser like an asperger. he flew out of the window immediately (warning for aspergers: FIGURATIVELY). he also watched a video with me witj absolutely zero interest or participation with me verbally or nonverbally. when i complained he said "i cant give you attention. i am busy watching a video". i felt like he zero cares about me only about the video.

  13. i am less autistic than average population. when they say bend over backward i imagine exactly a contortionist bending his spine backwards. the point is, its so difficult its a metaphor for going out of ones way.

  14. my aspie bf could not wash dishes and talk to me. because he has no subconscious social processing he has to emulate it consciously like "if the curvature of mouth is upwards it means smiling. if downwards sad. if straight neutral". he has to memorize it like a lookup table and look up every time. but his conscious processing power is already occupied by washing dishes.

  15. i want to make a teddy bear who makes an eye contact. put two photocells which will detect light changes. put a servo into the neck which will stop when the signal strength from both is the same. as you move, it will turn its head towards you. so that he can have better nonverbal contact than asperger people.

  16. I know, it's like some Swedish teenagers hear climate change and assume the climate is supposed to be static and get horrified

  17. I copy pasted too much fictional characters in my social interactions; travis bickle, freddie quell, arthur morgan, joel (the last of us), C3PO, R2D2.. UAAAAAAUUGHHH

  18. OMG THE FLYING FROGS BOOK THEY MADE ME READ THAT LAST WEEK. It was ridiculously hard… I just kept saying things that seemed funny or down to earth – relatable, a bit like dialogue from the office or doctor who or something.

  19. i've been diagnosed with OCD and depression and treatment that isn't really working (it helped then hit a plateau), but i wonder if there's more to it. the difference was though- i was overly friendly as a child, i think. my mom says it was great and a wonderful thing, but looking back now it seems weird- i would just go up to random people and start playing with them?? i think it seems off, but i don't know. i do have problems with getting stuck on a topic of conversation and telling when others are tired of it, i've said things that make people mad without understanding why and continued talking to them until they tell me to back off, i have obsessions (like i go from one thing to another, its not a full on forever thing, but i will say watch one show. and only that show. nothing else in my life is important but that show and i spend hourse a day thinking of it, watching it, then maybe a week to months later i move on to something else that i treat the same way and lose almost all interest in the previous thing). i have a good handle on language itself, though, and usually get jokes unless theyre ones i didn't hear before and aren't said with an obviously sarcastic voice. i struggle with understanding my own emotions, though, and for years could only say how i was feeling by making noises and gestures that i felt explained it (still do to an extent but therapys helped me find the words). i don't stim a ton but i have sensory issues, and do find comfort in rocking and flapping- i just don't do it often unless im alone and have a real need too, like if i'm anxious or overly happy.

    i often don't get rhetorical questions, though, and just recently i answered one and the boys across from me whispered to each other snickering and they tend to do that every time i talk now and i dont know if its new or ive just missed it before.

    anyway idk if i have a lot of separate issues or if its ASD but super highfunctioning. i want to bring it up but the last time i did i got shot down and lowkey laughed at. my mom was a special ed teacher and said "you don't have it" but then i remind her that she worked with the stereotypical, fairly low-functioning, boys with autism. anyway, just needed to get that out.

    edit: didnt even remember but i almost always walk away from a show or film mimicking a character or characters that stuck with me- attitude, speech patterns, how they hold themselves. i can feel myself doing it and i get self conscious but i cant stop if that makes sense?

  20. I just figured this out last year. I’m 42 years old. I don’t know my real laugh or my real handwriting, just to name two. I spent time trying out different ones, copying those around me, not knowing that wasn’t a struggle most people had. My oldest son has it, and was diagnosed very quickly at 10. He’s very high functioning, but he was still typical enough Asperger’s-wise that they could properly diagnose him. It’s been a long road, but I’m now accepting myself and loving who I am. By the way, so funny that she used those idioms, and my mind pictures those exact things! Nice to know I’m not alone.

  21. I wonder if people with asperger cope intentionally or is it more subconscious? bc I also do cope behavior of people but it's always unconsciously

  22. I would think hiding under the table at lunch at school should have tipped off teachers that something was wrong!

  23. This almost makes me cry. I'm a 15 year old girl with Asperger in a country that even doctors have told me " A girl can not have Asperger, that's only for boys", and even after being diagnosed nobody did anything to help. I didn't realized how much I needed someone to talk about this.
    I wish her the best, good luck friend.

  24. this talk lost me, when she started saying boys with asperger's benefit more than girls with the condition.

  25. Thank you beautiful girl. I am one of those women in their fourties you talked about. My gratitude for having risen up your voice.

  26. Everything im currently diagnosed with or ever have been is on the spectrum. Online quiz questionates are A+. Ive never been offered a real test. I exhibit alot of the common male features to it which makes it even more silly that no ones tested me.

  27. Hmmm Aspergers, a type of autism that isn’t really autism yet, because of your social awkwardness you claim to be more intelligent. However there is no actual proof of being more intelligent other than scoring higher on a multi-choice test which shows the ability to retain Information more rather than an actual sign of higher Intelligence. In other words, this explains a lot of millennial, left leaning liberal, Social Justice Warrior behavior online virtue signaling and acting irrational in protesting Donald Trump at rallies while screaming and shouting about tolerance while displaying utter intolerant actions. Got it 💁‍♂️ it all makes sense now.

  28. didn't know i was until i was 23. no problem with academics, but i couldn't maintain any social relationships. always been a mirror to survive. because of that i have broad interests. i do have one "repetitive interest" which is music but i love all kinds. i learned that music was a way to know most people, i'd listen to the things others would like & befriend them that way. but i crashed in my 20s & now i have more mental illnesses from my lack of social interaction. i am 26 now.

  29. I was never astute enough to mimic anyone. I was a constant target for ridicule. I never knew how to carry myself or where to put my hands. What to do with them. How to walk. I could go on, but it would be too much for a YouTube comment.

  30. Those pictures are exactly what I see when people say things like that and many other qualities. I do think I have undiagnosed aspergers. People in my professional environment are starting to notice I thing and it makes me a little uncomfortable. I never want a diagnosis though because I fear the stereotypical judgement

  31. Where can one read more about it online? Is there already a possibility to test oneself? And most of all, where can I find advice on how to cope with it and how to live better? The more I dig into this topic, the more I realize- I am the same. Typically, no one believes me, my therapist tries to press me into a diagnosis I barely "made into" acording to the test and it is not helping at all.

  32. For the longest time I thought everyone studied other people for clues on how to act. I would watch other girls from the corner of my eyes, watching how they moved, how they walked, how they approached each other and everything else. I would watch people when in shops with my mum, and listen out for the appropriate ways to interact with the people who worked there, or how to have small talk with a cashier in a supermarket (thankfully we now have self checkout and I don't have to talk to anyone). Even things like how to ask for and pay for a bus ticket, these were the things I studied.

  33. After 20+ years of therapy & being well into adulthood I was diagnosed. I figured it out on my own then had testing. I’m ok with it but it would have made a huge difference if I had diagnosed in childhood or adolescence. 🧩👍

  34. I instantly pictured a man be bent over backwards and then a few seconds later the other part of my brain caught up and was like, "No, that's not what your supposed to think. Remember that metaphors are a thing." I've done this it's pretty much every metaphorical phrase I've ever heard. What I call the encyclopedic part of my brain catches up and reminds me not everything is literal.

  35. I'm 29 and was very recently, diagnosed with aspergers. I'm not a girl, but I've been mimicking all my life, to try and fit in. The vid and comments makes me happy, that I'm not alone

  36. What I find interesting is how many people sre unsure how to speak to a person with Aspergers when it is far easier than spealing with most people.

    Just be honest & to the point.
    Congratulate when appropriate.
    Explain when something goes wrong.

    Tell them you are happy, sad, annoyed or whatever.

    So simple

  37. When I was in elementary school, I was learning about idioms in my English workbook and I didn't understand what "chip on their shoulder" meant, so I guessed that it meant a person has a hole in their shirt. My teacher wasn't impressed. 🙁

  38. But sure, intelligent as you aspies are, you can learn what all those expressions and metaphors mean. They may be easy to misunderstand the first time. I do. Someone will probably correct you. No need to forget when you re-hear them in future. Or do you have another opinion?

  39. i relate so much to this and i have no way of someone officially diagnosing me because i know my parents won’t believe me. one of my friends also suggested that i might have it and i took this test on the official aspergers reddit and it said that i have aspergers,,,,, it’s hard having to live like this and i’ve always wanted to know what it’s like to not have to leave an event bc the noise was took loud

  40. i'm 15 and trying to figure out if i have aspergers
    watching this, i became even more sure that i have it.
    there have been quite a lot of moments when people have gotten mad because i've 'copied them' or because i say something 'mean' even though i'm just being honest and looking up for clues so i can blend in and understand people
    i definitely have the interests and about the eye contact thing.. i've been forcing myself to look people in the eyes and since i'm now telling myself i really don't have to, it makes me much more comfortable. i realized i was at my worst when i forced myself to look people in the eyes, suppress my interests and such and it made me feel so horrible all the time

    i frequently misunderstand people and i didn't used to know why. i had no idea why i hated high-pitched notices and physical contact and why am i so clumsy and awkward all the time

    i've done probably most of the aspeger tests i've found and the results from them, all the research i've looked up and what the school psychologist had told me, i think i may be able to get the diagnosis

    thank you for spreading awareness and this is just what i've observed and felt in my life

  41. I'm confused. Should the title be "Girls AND Boys with Asperger's"? Boys are affected too, correct? Now I'm starting to think that I have Asperger's. At least I know I have hypochondria.

  42. I only knew what the expressions meant because I was told what they were meant when I was younger. I was diagnosed at 24 years old. I am now 27 and just now got any support from my family because they didn’t understand and thought that I was just pretending I had the struggles I do. It’s very hurtful for people to tell you what you’re feeling isn’t real.

  43. It took 14 years for anyone to notice you were struggling?
    What when no one notices you are struggling FOR YOUR WHOLE LIFE?
    And you just get labelled weird?

  44. I just realised that I have Asperger in my 20s, after struggling in my childhood and getting traumatized from time to time.. Great! 😑

  45. What an incredible public speaker! Definitely hope to see more of her, she articulates the struggles us autistic women go through so well in a way that I think anyone would be able to appreciate. Amazing that she is only 16, wow!!

  46. She’s 16 years of age, delivering ridiculously insightful speeches and unleashing her insight. I wish I had her confidence.

  47. "When I was younger, I would mimic my favorite cartoon characters."

    I started smiling at this part. I did the exact same thing when I was a kid. I still do it sometimes

  48. I literally started crying when she said she sat under the table. That is EXACTLY what I did and nobody cared to help me for 10 years.

  49. I was only diagnosed at 17. Sadly, I didn't get the coping/masking skills I needed at a young age. As a result, I'm still struggling like crazy.

  50. I understand what phrases mean, but I also literally envision them such as a man bending over backwards. I also do understand nuances and sarcasm, but sometimes subtle interactions I just miss and need assurance that it was all meant as a joke.

  51. Let's get rid of Aspergers. It reminds me of the Nazis and elitism. We are ALL Autistic and it hasn't been diagnosed for 6 years. Asperges is also pronounced with a hard G.

  52. I thought that I had aspergers for a while now, mostly because of the 'stereotypical' behaviors listed. As for copying behaviors, I thought that was a normal thing everyone else did. I thought my exhaustion at social interaction was due to my being an introvert. Having 'lines', especially when at work dealing with the public, helps. Like, "Hello, how are you?", "Good, thank you," or "I know how that is." People still think I'm weird sometimes haha.

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