All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome and being an aspie woman

[Image description: the cover of All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome, which features a grey tabby kitten with an open mouth. A sticker indicates that the book was shortlisted by the Children’s Book Council of Australia.]

[Image description: the cover of All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome, which features a grey tabby kitten with an open mouth. A sticker indicates that the book was shortlisted by the Children’s Book Council of Australia.]

In conversations about Autistic people and our frequent love of cats, people often mention the book All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome by Kathy Hoopmann. It’s a children’s book that puts information about Asperger’s syndrome next to photos of cats that vaguely relate to the text. This is presumably to bring out the similarities between aspies and cats, like our love of routine, sensitive hearing and avoidance of eye contact. I think it’s a great idea, but I hated it because of the pronouns.

All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome refers to Aspergian people using only masculine pronouns (he/him/his). I’ve read a lot of books that always use masculine pronouns to refer to people whose gender is arbitrary, and I find this sexist and unpleasant, but it’s never put me off completely like it did with All Cats. But in the context of Autism, gender is a big deal for me.

I was twenty when it was first suggested that I might be Aspergian, and at first I thought it was ridiculous, because I was nothing like what I thought Asperger’s was. Then when I started reading about it I realised that Asperger’s would explain a lot of the things I thought were uniquely wrong with me, like my highly sensitive hearing and literal understanding of language. But I also read descriptions that I didn’t relate to at all, like the idea of a ‘little professor’ who is obsessed with computers or public transport and who doesn’t understand pretend games.

As I waited for my NHS Asperger’s assessment I was desperate to know if I had found the explanation for why I felt so different from everyone else, and for the things I had always thought were wrong with me. I built myself up for the day when I’d finally know the answer. The appointment was a few weeks before I was due to start university and I was glad that my diagnosis would come in time for me to get extra support.

But the psychiatrist decided that although I met most of the criteria for Asperger’s, she thought my intense interests in cats and fiction were normal, so I didn’t meet the narrow interest criterion. She said she couldn’t tell whether I had Asperger’s or not, and that I’d need to have another assessment with someone else. But she didn’t know how long I’d have to wait or even whether the assessment would be funded. I was distraught.

But I was lucky. My parents found a psychologist who specialised in diagnosing Aspergian girls and women, and paid for me to have a private assessment just before I started university.

Around that time I learned that the Aspergian traits of girls and women often appear different from those of boys and men, and that the way most nonautistic people understand and write about Asperger’s is based on how it appears in boys only. It’s not just me this affects; so many Autistic women have stories of missing a diagnosis in childhood, of having to fight to get one, of having multiple misdiagnoses.

Eventually I found a list of Aspergian traits specific to women and felt so relieved to learn that other people like me existed and to see our existence recognised. I learned that although the special interests of Autistic boys tend to be focused on things other people see as weird, Autistic girls often have unusually intense interests in topics other girls find interesting– things like animals and literature.

It was painful growing up not knowing there was anyone else like me, and believing there was something terribly wrong with me. And it was painful going through a failed assessment, to get my hopes up and share personal information with a stranger so I could get an answer that never came. I knew these experiences were likely related to my gender. My mum bought me All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome right after I got my diagnosis, when the pain was still raw. So I couldn’t bear to see another example of Autistic women being ignored and left out.

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10 thoughts on “All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome and being an aspie woman

  1. It’s terrible how so many aspie girls go undiagnosed because Asperger affect women differently. I didnt know until mid forties and was real ticked off that I didnt know in childhood, that I grew up ashamed and thinking I was a failure, a loser. When you’re a child, that’s when your self esteem is building up. That’s when you should know. I also felt like an alien and thought I was the only person in the world with those traits. My greatest fear was being caught flapping my fingers.

    I dont fit the stereotype either. I’m horrible with computers and hate math, not obsessed with bus routines or video games, but with the passage of time and what would people do if they could get away with breaking the law, how far would they go to help a stranger, or hurt him. What would they do in this situation or that if not fearing consequences.

    I’m not stereotype because my sensory issues are mild, but emotional draining from being around people is swift and overwhelming. You don’t find too many books written by neurotypicals where the main character is an aspie – and also a female. ‘The curios incident of the dog in the night time’ of instance, is a boy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel like the way Autistic people are represented in the mainstream media is mostly stereotypes. And the lack of fictional autistic girls and women probably contributes to people not noticing or dismissing the autistic traits of real girls and women.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Ooof. I rather like that book, and never noticed the gender bias… but that’s one thing that I suspect I’ve internalized, or tend to be somewhat blind to. Thank you for pointing that out.

    And I’ve got a novel in progress where the protagonist is an autistic female (undiagnosed) – two, actually, one fantasy and one mainstream fiction – but I don’t think I’m quite at the point where I can really do justice to the topic, so they’re currently on the backburner for a while. But I definitely intend to finish the fantasy one, at least! (And gah – don’t get me started on “The Curious Incident”. I read about 8 pages into that and couldn’t continue. Though Richard Long, the father of Emma Zurcher-Long, saw the play made of the book and enjoyed it….)

    As for the audience of “All Cats”, I think it’s actually likely for older children to either explain why they feel different or why a sibling or friend might seem different… and also possibly for older children and teens and (young or not-so-young) adults to use as an introductory book for explaining autism to others. *shrugs*

    🙂 tagAught

    Liked by 1 person

    • I actually read ‘The Curious Incident’ before I knew anything about autism and thought it was really good, but after I found out I was autistic I realized how much of a stereotype the book was. (I read a review of it here by an Autistic person, saying it’s a harmful representation of autism: http://disabilityinkidlit.com/2015/04/04/review-the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time-by-mark-haddon/ )

      I hope you finish your novels one day, because I think we really need more autistic characters written by Autistic authors, who actually know what it feels like to be Autistic. I really liked ‘Rogue’ by Lyn Miller-Lachmann, which is written by an Autistic person and has a self-diagnosed Aspergian protagonist – I could relate to the character a lot.

      Like

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