The Autism Women’s Network (AWN) has been around since 2010. They have built a supportive community and set of resources for autistic people who identify as women. What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew is their first book release (and their first time as editors of an anthology).
The women who contributed to the book come from AWN’s online community—some are writers whose work we’ve admired for years and some will be brand new discoveries for readers.
The editors at AWN plan on making this the first of many books covering topics important to autistic women and their families. In fact, their second book, All the Weight of Our Dreams, in already in the works. It will be the first ever anthology by autistic people of color.
I interviewed the team at AWN and asked Haley Moss, one of the contributors, to find out their insights into this wonderful book and inspiring community.
Tell us about What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew.
Emily (AWN Online Content Moderator): The anthology is a compilation of writing by 21 autistic contributors (and two non-autistic parents of autistic girls) on the subject of what we most wished our own parents had known, and what we most want parents of autistic girls to know now. Subjects include schooling, friendship, family, sexuality, our rights to communicate and to live in our communities, and the affirmation of finding an autistic community.
What inspired you to publish this anthology?
Emily: Part of the reason why the Autism Women’s Network exists, and also why we wanted this book to exist, is that autism is still so often thought of as something that boys have. Boys are over-represented in research, in diagnosis, and in media portrayal. This leads to assumptions that the default experience of autism is that of certain stereotypes we have of young, white, autistic men and boys. Not only does this contribute to the continued under-identification of girls, but it can really get lost that autistic girls and women can have very distinctive experiences of autism and how it affects us in every area of our lives.
We wanted to give our contributors the opportunity to write to parents in a deep and personal way about some of the knowledge that we’ve gained and wanted them to have about what it is to be an autistic girl or woman (or autistic person who has ever identified as a girl or woman).
Sharon (AWN Executive Director): As mentioned in the preface, the idea of the book was derived from the various questions AWN receives from the parent community which consistently follows a similar pattern of inquiry as to how autistic women view their childhood, and what they wish their parents had known or done differently.
Who’s your illustrator and why was he/she perfect for capturing the spirit of your book?
Emily: Our cover artist is Haley Moss, who is an artist as well as a law student.
Sharon: Haley reached out to AWN inquiring about ways to volunteer with us at the same time we were starting the anthology project. As an artist and an autistic person, Haley made it clear that she wanted to use her artistic talents to benefit AWN. It made sense to bring her onto the project for that reason as well as because AWN loves her art!
Haley Moss, why did you decide to contribute to the book?
Haley: When I was asked to contribute to this anthology as both a contributor and an illustrator, I couldn’t say yes fast enough.
This isn’t just because I admire the Autism Women’s Network. Conversations about autistic girls and women are so necessary and important. Oftentimes, we as a society don’t have those conversations enough. Being a part of the next generation of women and girls on the autism spectrum who have stories to tell is a privilege and a responsibility. We get to educate and help the parents of autistic girls and women today to raise, accept, and understand the autistic girls and women of tomorrow.
I’m also a big fan of passing on the knowledge I’ve gained in my 22 years on this planet as an autistic girl and now, woman. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned from challenges I’ve faced, mistakes I’ve made, and successes I’ve had. If one person can learn from my experiences, then everything I have shared is worth it. I know there is always something to be gained and to pass on and I hope that a parent or an autistic girl learns something from my life experiences.
Who is the ideal reader and how do you see the book being used?
Emily: Our target audience for this book is primarily the parents of today’s autistic girls, but we hope that teachers, health care providers, and other professionals who work with autistic girls will read it as well.
While parents are obviously the most important adult figures in a child’s life, a lot of what our authors had to say has a lot of importance and applicability in every aspect of an autistic child’s life. (And while some of the topics are of particular concern to autistic girls, a lot of the information and experiences covered really do span the boundaries of sex and gender as well.)
We hope that parents (and other adults involved in an autistic girl’s life) will use the book to more deeply inform themselves that their autistic daughters may be thinking or feeling in ways medical and media discourse about autism doesn’t understand. We want them to think about how what we’re taught about ourselves in childhood can impact our whole lives.
What we’re trying to convey to parents is our attempt at helping autistic girls of today to have better experiences of growing up than we ourselves had in a lot of cases. In particular, I really hope that the book will help parents and teachers of autistic girls to understand kids like us, our distinctive experiences in the world, and our need support and understanding—not just us having a “disorder” that needs to be treated in certain ways.
What’s the message you want your readers to take away after reading the book?
Emily: That autistic girls have rich and complex experiences of ourselves and our worlds, even if we can’t articulate them to the adults in our lives, and that we often have a better understanding of what’s happening to us than we’re given credit for.
Haley, why is it so important to focus on the autistic female perspective?
Haley: Because sadly, we’re not talked about often enough. The stereotypical person on the autism spectrum is a young boy. The signs of autism we pinpoint revolve around this narrative of a young boy—so girls often fall through the cracks. We present differently. A girl who has Asperger Syndrome does not look the same as a boy who has Asperger Syndrome, for instance. We’re less “obvious” which is why I believe we get overlooked in the popular narrative.
We get written off as shy, quirky, or introverted. Unlike the boys, when we try to pass with our neurotypical peers—I’ve noticed it looks a lot like a Zooey Deschanel character. Since that character type is so popular and people find it endearing, people won’t really think anything of autistic girls other than we are quirky or look like a Hollywood stereotype when we don’t look like an autistic boy stereotype, but neither of these are really the case, I think. But here’s the thing – even if we just look quirky or shy or whatever Hollywood writes off that typecast as—there is so much more to us. We aren’t two-dimensional characters: we are creative, we are driven, we are always thinking, we have hopes and dreams for the future, we have things that are hard for us, and above all, we are also human.
In addition, girls and women on the autism spectrum face very different issues—especially when it comes to our bodies, our self-image, our emotions, our health—all of these things are so vastly different than what we are told.
Girls need to know that we’re out there. That they aren’t being singled out in a “boy’s diagnosis.” It’s important to have role models, especially ones who look and sound like you, who are also autistic and owning it and having meaningful lives. I felt that way years ago when I first discovered some of the fabulous women on the spectrum out there like Liane Holliday-Wiley and Temple Grandin. It’s time for the next generation of autistic girls and their families to have more names, faces, and stories to add to a collection of autistic girls and autistic women who are doing their thing and being awesome because they are themselves.
It’s important to share who we are in a first-person narrative as a woman. It is one thing to hear from someone else, like a neurotypical parent, about their autistic daughter and what she struggles with and some of her interests. It is another thing to hear the voices of those autistic daughters and they open up about how autism influences their lives, how they see the world, and what their thoughts look like.
Do you have a proud moment you’d like to share about the book?
Emily: We have had one parent message our Facebook page to say that the book has already been a “game-changer” in how she thinks about raising an autistic daughter. That was really gratifying, and also humbling.
Haley, what is it that you appreciate the most about The Autism Women’s Network?
Haley: AWN is a community and it isn’t just a place for autistic women and girls—but it’s for our family members, friends, and allies. AWN supports and creates a culture centered on the concept of Intersectionality, and how our experiences and backgrounds influence the lens in which we experience and view autism.
Autism is not cut and dry. It involves other ideologies beyond the traditional facts and what we are told and know. How we experience autism is also intertwined with our other identities and experiences—our culture, our ethnicity, our religion, our sexuality, our gender identity and expression, our socioeconomic status, our mental health or other disabilities, our educational backgrounds—and AWN makes no point to ignore that. In fact, AWN deliberately includes all of these factors and more in the autism conversation as it relates to women.
AWN is a wonderful resource and place to learn from. It makes you more informed that there is no singular autism experience and every single one of us experiences autism through a different lens because of our individual stories and backgrounds. There is always something to be gained. Having the support of other women in every aspect of life on the autism spectrum is really special.
NOTE FROM AUTISM WOMEN’S NETWORK: While we’re called the Autism Women’s Network, and our title references autistic girls, the gender experiences and identities of autistic people who present as girls can vary a lot over the course of our lifetimes. Our community members and contributors also include trans, non-binary, and agender people. Media and research often discusses issues of autism and sex or gender in a very binary way and that doesn’t necessarily match up with the experiences of the people in our community.
Find out more about the Autism Women’s Network:
- AWN Website
- Book Website
- Autism Women’s Network Facebook Page
- Get “What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew” on Amazon
Find out more about Haley Moss on:
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