My thoughts on Christine McGuinness: Unmasking My Autism

Content warning: eating disorder, mental health, sexual abuse, rape, self harm, suicide ideation, institutionalisation and ableism.

Christine McGuinness shares an intimate look at her journey to Autistic realisation and the wider implications for Autistic women and girls who are going under the radar. She said she:

“was really nervous about doing a documentary that was just based on Autistic women and girls, because there’s obviously boys out there and men that are Autistic, and I didn’t want it to come across as being sexist at all […] But there’s so many women being diagnosed later on in life because they’re being misunderstood, or they’re masking and they’re not showing it […] And it’s so important that that changes, because those women probably needed help and support when they were girls […] Its really sad to think that there could be teenage girls going through what I was at their age without the answers I have now. “

I’m glad she did share her story and those of other Autistic women and girls. There were so many things I understood and saw myself reflected in in Christine’s story. She said that she was living in conflict with herself and that the over-analyzing of every conversation was exhausting. Christine also shared that she has a hyper sensitive sense of smell and was shocked to find out that others don’t experience smells in the same way. I have this for smells and sounds and over the years of sharing my sensory experiences it has become clear that I am not experiencing the same reality as non-Autistic folk.

Christine spoke about how getting diagnosed lead to better self understanding. She said that she has been on a personal mission of finding out who she is and part of that was splitting up with Paddy, her husband of 15 years.

Christine reflected that despite being late diagnosed she was still lucky to have a diagnosis – currently there are over 122,000 people in the UK awaiting their autism diagnosis.

Her diagnosis also made her reevaluate her past relationships, including being raped at a young age. I thought it was incredibly brave and really important that Christine shared this, as Autistic women and girls experience higher rates of sexual and domestic violence.

Consent can be a real issue for us as we are not speaking the same language as non-autistic people. Consent is often assumed of us which makes us more vulnerable to predatory people. Throughout the programme, Christine and the people she spoke to asked for consent around giving eye contact and hugs. I ask for consent all the time as it ensures that the grey areas become black and white, making sure we are all safe and comfortable. I have noticed this in a lot of Autistic spaces.

Christine spoke to different women and girls about their experiences. Leanne was diagnosed with bipolar and social anxiety when she was 13 and was institutionalised for behaviours associated with a misdiagnosis of ‘personality disorder.’ Fiona was diagnosed with an eating disorder before finding out she was Autistic, eating was a way she could exert control and she described her eating habits were the only thing she was ‘getting right’ in her life. Melissa was diagnosed at age 36 after her son was, she feels much better now she can live authentically. Christine also went to an Autistic mum group with Melissa and it was gorgeous to watch all these Autistic people have such a good time in each others company.

There were a few issues with the programme, namely the reinforcement of ‘female autism’ which suggests that there are only two representations of autism, stereotyping different people and erasing a lot more besides. There is no argument that there needs to be more research with women and girls but there also needs to be autism research for all gender minorities. I also take issue with the idea that women and girls ‘hide being Autistic better‘ – people are just not looking hard enough at those of us who have historically been considered second class citizens.

Overall Christine McGuiness: Unmasking My Autism was a very good watch, which aired soon after Inside Our Autistic Minds, which was also aired on BBC. I’m glad that Christine has used her platform to improve people’s understanding and I hope that is has helped her on her way to being authentically Autistic.

I have based this article on my live tweets which you can find here.

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