'I've learnt to hide how my autism affects me.'

The experiences of autistic women and girls are still very much misunderstood by the general public. These images by artist Rosanna Rosetti bring to light how autism often goes undetected. Autistic woman, Rose, also told us what it feels like to be autistic and misunderstood.

'What is your face trying to tell me?' 

It’s still more common for men and boys to receive a diagnosis of autism. But it's increasingly believed that autistic women and girls may be better at masking their difficulties, leading to their autism being missed.

'Looking you in the eye overwhelms me'.

Some say the diagnostic criteria for autism are biased towards the behaviour of men and boys. Whatever the reasons, we know that autistic women and girls are still hugely misunderstood. 

'It's like all my senses are firing all at once.'

About the artist

Rosanna Rosetti is studying Graphic Design at Birmingham City University.

"I met my friend Joe, a talented photography student, at university and he really inspired me to create a project around autism. Joe himself has Asperger syndrome. He told me about some of the prejudice he’s faced because of his condition. This made me aware that something needed to be done to make the world a more autism-friendly place.

Rosanna

"I chose Russian dolls as the aesthetic for this campaign. Russian dolls are traditionally female, they also appear to be hiding within one another. This I thought represented how some autistic women and girls attempt to conceal their behaviour and autistic traits by hiding them from plain sight.

"I hand-painted five Russian dolls in total, each taking around ten hours to complete and each one representing a different trait of autism. I really hope my work will inspire and make a difference."

'Socialising fills me with anxiety.'

How the public misunderstand autistic women

by Rose Hughes

"I think being a woman is hard. Being an autistic woman is even harder. Women are oppressed. Women are vulnerable. Women are seen as less and feel a requirement to prove themselves more than I assume men do. Autism is the same. I feel the need to prove I can function, to prove I have a right to be the same place as non-autistic people. You can see how those things all factor into each other.

I don’t think I come across as autistic. If anything, I wish I had more confidence to say that I’m autistic.

"For example, when I go to a café, I like my latte a certain way. I’ve had full-blown meltdowns because the barista thinks I’m being awkward and refuses to make me a ‘warm’ latte. I can’t stand how this makes me feel, but to them I’m just being difficult and should get out of the way.

"People assume I’m not friendly because I often don’t want to make eye contact. People assume I’m being dumb when I ask them to write down directions they just gave me.

"Often my completely different way of thinking makes it hard for me to mask and pretend that I’m OK. It makes me anti-social because being alone means I can hide at home. Being at home also means I don’t have to deal with the sensory overload that leaving my house can cause."

“Socialising fills me with anxiety”

“I feel anxious before I’ve even left my door. If I know I am socialising on Friday, I am nervous from the day I make that plan. I go to bed Thursday and barely sleep. I toss and turn because of anxiety. I will struggle to pick an outfit, struggle to do my makeup and hair, and want to cancel all day long.

"It is not easy but I push myself because I feel it is important. I find it’s hard being a woman with the amount that goes into getting ready for a social event, but being an autistic female requires even more energy and planning and patience.”

“It’s like all my senses are firing at once”

“If you ask me three questions, all at once, I will be overwhelmed.

"I have to remember the first question you asked me as well as remember the second and then the third. Then because of the way it makes me feel, my face over-heats, I get a flush. My ears don’t seem to work, I stumble over my words, I want to close my eyes to try and communicate and I wish I was sitting down. It’s horrible.”

“I’ve learnt to hide how autism affects me”

“I am the master of disguise. I have always worn a mask.

"As a woman I think we take on certain roles anyway, to fit into each environment. Being female I feel significant pressure to prove myself and be strong and be independent. And I have almost started to believe it myself.

I grew up being quite fake, not really understanding who I am.

"I also always felt like I had to hide how much I wasn’t coping or how badly I was feeling. I am a pro at this now, but I am also working on knowing how to let it out and allowing myself that breathing space to be autistic. Men with autism tend not to hide themselves nearly as much as autistic women do. I wonder if this is simply down to female oppression or the ways in which women have learnt to act within society.”

“Looking at you in the eye overwhelms me”

"If someone stares at me I feel pressured to give eye contact. I become feel smaller and belittled because it feels like I'm being pushed. The pressure means I can't focus on anything else, I stop being able to process what's being said to me and I start feeling really anxious. The only thing I can do is physically withdraw from the situation.

"The societal expectation with eye contact adds to my general anxiety as an autistic woman”.