Stop telling me that I don’t have Asperger’s

I am so sick of people telling me I don’t have Asperger’s syndrome. I am also so sick of people not listening to me when I tell them their daughter has Asperger’s.

Women who have Asperger’s do not look like men who have Asperger’s. Men who have Asperger’s look like socially incompetent men. Women who have Asperger’s look like neurotypical men. Of course, this is just a nice way of saying that women with Asperger’s are incompetent women. But the truth is that neurotypical men still look like social outcasts compared to neurotypical women.

I am giving you a link for this. It’s Scientific American. Everyone should read this article because it is my Bible. I will keep linking to it until you read it.

So when a woman thinks like a man, we do not think “she has Asperger’s syndrome” because we worry that would be gender stereotyping. But WTF, genders do have stereotypes. And most women who have brains like men have Asperger’s. This does not mean women who are strong and athletic have Asperger’s. That is you misunderstanding gender; women can be strong and athletic and think like a woman. But women whose brains work like men are not likely to be normal. Duh.

Don’t complain to me that there is not a man’s brain and a woman’s brain. Seriously. Of course there is. You know that if a guy loves to go shopping and get his hair done then he is gay. It doesn’t help anyone to say there are no gender differences. You know where that gets us? It gets Sheryl fucking Sandberg telling women to lean in as if women do not care more about staying home with kids than men do. Which they do.

Most women do not notice that they have Asperger’s until they are in their 40s. This is because women with Asperger’s syndrome are smart and good looking and are able to somehow pass as normal even though they care relatively little for social decorum.

Then they get to be middle aged, where men and women separate more than any other time in life. The women are largely at home, or struggling between kids and home, and the men are largely at work. And while everyone is raising kids, women feel that experience differently than men do.

This means that the women who have Asperger’s and have been passing as normal among men can no longer pass for normal because the men are pretty much gone. It becomes painfully clear to the women with Asperger’s that they’ve been different forever and they can’t handle it anymore.

I know so many women who “were fine until they had kids.” What does that mean? I think it means they were fine until they couldn’t hide. I don’t say this critically. I say this as one of those women. I could pass so much more easily before kids.

Because before there are children, it’s possible to spend way more time than everyone else navigating adult life, so no one notices how bad you are at it. But once there are kids, it’s much harder to hide because there is not extra time you can devote to doing things that neurotypicals find very simple to do.

A few months ago, I told people I’d discount my $350 coaching fee to $150 if people booked a coaching session at 7 a.m. or 10 p.m. I had never discounted the sessions before, so I didn’t know what would happen.

The first thing that happened is that I was able to keep a schedule for myself. I can’t get up without someone calling me. I used to think it’s because I sleep with the dog and he’s warm and cozy. But it turns out sleep problems are another sign of Asperger’s syndrome.

The other thing that happened is that 40% of the people who signed up for $150 sessions have Asperger’s. It’s incredible, really. Yet it’s so easy for me to see. It’s the person who is 35 and they are scared of getting fired again. The person who wants to get married but can’t figure out how. The person who is an INTJ but working as a receptionist. The person who is single and an accountant and doesn’t date. It’s so easy for me to see that these people have Asperger’s.

You are doubting me. I know. Take the last example. Accountants like to follow rules, they like to have clear paths, and they like doing tangible things rather than staring into space or reading a book. That’s just standard personality type stuff. I haven’t even gotten to my renegade diagnosis part.

The thing about an accountant who doesn’t date is that there is nothing else for that person to do. They can’t think of something else to do besides have a family. I mean, there is not actually a lot of other things to do in the world, which is why most people have families, but a lot of people (HELLO, ENFPs!!!) hold on to fantasies that they will be doing something phenomenal in life and bounce around from shiny idea to shiny idea instead of having a family. But accountants are not the phenomenal types.

It’s all about patterns. And I see the patterns because I have Asperger’s.

I’m hoping that people can start to see how insanely lonely it is to have Asperger’s as a woman and that the way to decrease that loneliness is to help girls see themselves more clearly so they can make their lives less lonely as adults.

Maybe this blog post is not politically correct or culturally sensitive or whatever, but we need to start talking frankly about women and Asperger’s. And I don’t know how to tell you in a way that is nice. Because I have Asperger’s. But I see the patterns and frankly I’m really frustrated by all the people who are oblivious to what’s totally obvious to me.

Even after all these years of ranting about it, I am still not sure why people are so resistant to admitting they have Asperger’s. I feel like, who cares? You are who you are—admitting who you are is never going to make things worse.

Since writing this post, I have received hundreds of emails from women who have Aspergers, and others who thought they might have Aspergers.  I am hosting a free live video event on April 15th where I will answer all of your questions live. Sign up here to reserve your spot. 

158 replies
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  1. celeste
    celeste says:

    I am confused by a point that you made in saying “women with Aspberger’s are smart and good-looking”. The article referenced stated that attractiveness and high IQ are associated; it did not mention Aspberger’s at all. Was there another reference that linked these three?

  2. m
    m says:

    I’m a woman architect, and I’m clearly an unofficially-diagnosed high-functioning Aspergers lady too. I’ve a young adult son, college grad (yes!) who was diagnosed as PDD as a 4 year-old, which morphed into Aspergers diagnosis as a 7 year-old, who was mainstreamed from special ed preschool onward, and even attended a fancy-pants college prep high school. Aspergers folks can be smart; we just don’t necessarily apply ourselves to what doesn’t interest us, nor conform to the “resume-burnishing” of our classmates, or later brown-nose and “manage upwards” like some of our workmates.

    And I’ve a husband, an architect, who clearly is a high-functioning Aspergers-like personality too, though he’ll never reconcile himself to such a diagnosis, thinking he’d rather embrace “social anxiety”, “blue-collar family background”, and “not particularly confident” as his alternate definition.

    But sometimes our relative “genius”, or I should say, our Asperger-cultivated special exemplary work-skills and focused work-ethic, get us that career attention and we get to be successful professional folks despite ourselves.

    We don’t “look retarded”, but we certainly all feel that way at times, when we feel so socially clumsy as to be near tongue-tied and uncomfortable in that social mileu that defines are every day world. Thanks for using the word that fits the feeling.

    And I’ll note that a fair number of the women architects and women engineers that I’ve known are somewhere on that Aspie-trait spectrum, and never were the cheerleader-prom queen-mean girls in the playground that I’ve encountered in PTA and elsewhere where moms congregate.

  3. Courtney
    Courtney says:

    Just out of curiosity, do people with Aspergers tend to care about other people on far deeper levels than they should?

    I’ve read something in my life once about Aspergers but was never tested for it. After a former friend of mine told me to stop contacting her, I had a really hard time with that where it’s been on/off for 2 years except all she’s done is contact my parents never really saying anything. This particular friend of mine meant so much to me even after she used me (long story)..,

    But I can’t even tell her how much she really meant to me because if I contact her again, I’ll get a restraining order filed against me. So that’s why I was wondering if they care on deeper levels than most would.?

    I’m aware there are people who don’t like attachment but my form of attachment is because I care.

  4. Rita
    Rita says:

    For the sake of variety (I am ENFP), I will share what I found out not long ago that made me think twice about what we call “syndroms” or “disorders”.
    I was diagnose with an anxiety disorder ten years ago after several months of insomnia. I had always new there was something “wrong” with me because since early childhood, I felt physically uncomfortable most of the time, did not sleep well, was claustrophobic and had no tolerance for noise,TV, and neon lights.
    I was mentally uncomfortable too, but I will not go into that.
    About three months ago, I came across Elaine N. Aron’s book
    “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You”. She’s a psychologist and has been researching the subject of Highly Sensitive People for more than 25 years.
    Her research shows that about 15% of the earth population, half man/half woman, are highly sensitive. But what I found the most interesting was that her portrait of the Highly Sensitive Person gave a deeper and more complete description of a person with anxiety disorder…
    So is being highly sensitive a pathology or a humain trait ? Are poeple with an anxiety disorder “sick” or simply different ?
    Elain Aron shows in her book that it is a humain trait that has remained because it has a function for the continuation of mankind. Highly sensitive poeple can apprehend a danger and discern the truth way before the “normal” humans. They exist to protect and phrophecy.
    Of course, I prefer to think of myself as legit and necessary than inappropriate and worthless.
    Being highly sensitive make my numerous burnouts and breakdowns more acceptable and inevitable. It changes my perspective on failure and hardship.

  5. Erin McJ
    Erin McJ says:

    I think people tell you you don’t have Asperger’s for a few reasons. Well, one, some people are rude and think it’s fine to editorialize on other people’s health. But two, certain of your socially-dissonant behaviors read less like “doesn’t know the rules” and more like “knows the rules but chooses to violate them to generate rageclicks.” Could be some variant of the fundamental attribution error; could be sexism, who knows.

    I’m a little gender atypical in some ways and also have some spectrumy traits, which were more pronounced in childhood. I am not terrible at social stuff but I am not great either and I put in a lot of work to be middle-of-the-road. I definitely do not fit your pattern of wanting to be at home with my kid all day. I would go nuts. Instead I am a statistician and she is a kindergartener who loves graphs. The variance is the message!

  6. Kate
    Kate says:

    I’ve thought for a long time that I have a man’s brain in a female body, yet never thought that I was “disordered” because of it. I’m just wondering what giving someone like me an official “diagnosis” would accomplish, instead of just accepting that I’m a woman that thinks a bit more like a man? Admittedly, I haven’t had nearly as many problems coping with social situations that Penelope has had, but I can definitely relate to some of the things in this post. For example, I’m usually bored to tears with the topic of conversation when I’m with a group of women. It’s not that I miss the social cues, I just nine times out of ten don’t care about what women tend to talk about when they get together in a group, so I just sit silently 90% of the time. One-on-one with each individual woman is fine, and I love talking with groups of men! Of course, the latter comes with its own problems as you’re never really just “one of the guys” if you’re an attractive woman. I guess this is kind of lonely, but what exactly does it add to know that I officially can self-diagnose myself with a condition? Then again, maybe I should just go ahead and pay Penelope the $150 so she can tell me! : )

    • MMJ
      MMJ says:

      “For example, I’m usually bored to tears with the topic of conversation when I’m with a group of women. It’s not that I miss the social cues, I just nine times out of ten don’t care about what women tend to talk about when they get together in a group, so I just sit silently 90% of the time. ”

      Me too!! Men are so much easier, because with like minded men we just talk about the things that interest me (certain work, hobby, pursuit issues). Normal/typical women seem to want to talk about relationships, husbands/kids, and all of those are “barf” topics to me. Along with shopping, decorating, hair, nails, and complying with our culture’s ideas for what women are and look like. It’s lonely at times but I’ve seen my SIL (who is obsessed with “being a chick” and “girl stuff” and conforming to expectations) live a life of disappointment (the husband she picked out is boring and lazy, the life that looks like what her friends value was not satisfying, she’s left being the only smart and responsible person in her mega-mansion, paying for all of their “upper middle class” stuff). Better lonely than false to myself.

  7. Cher Flutterby
    Cher Flutterby says:

    This article has helped me soo much to realize I’m not alone and there are others going thru the same thing I am. I have all of theses things from difficulty socially, to difficulty with numbers. But i sure can art. I’ve also had problems holding a job, dispute college, trade school, and technical computer work. I find if i dont love my job then it gets too mundane. I’d love to read more of your articles, do you have a web address they are listed?

  8. Another Engineer
    Another Engineer says:

    I agree with a commenter who wrote that she would like to rehabilitate the word “retarded.” I hope we can, as I describe myself as “socially retarded” from time to time. It’s a completely accurate phrase for Aspies like me.

    As for the “N” word, under Penelope’s theory I should be able to use the “R” word too, as who in my cohort of 1960’s era math nerds hasn’t been called a “retard” in middle school. So I own that word in the same way that African Americans own the “N” word.

    What’s thought provoking about this blog post and the Scientific American report is the layperson’s characterization here of an Aspie woman as one who “thinks like a neurotypical man.” From a lifetime in workplaces with many women who fit that description, the light just went on how many of them WERE Aspies. Also it got a laugh here that a neurotypical man is “socially retarded,” when compared with a neurotypical woman. In general, so true. But as I like to say, “once a fifth-grade boy, always a fifth-grade boy.”

  9. Beth
    Beth says:

    “Oh no! Penelope used a word I didn’t like! Now I’m going to completely disregard her argument and assume that nothing she says can be valid because she used that horrid, horrid word!”

    Seriously though, Penelope, thank you for this post. Your original post on female Asperger’s was what made me brave enough to admit I’m on the spectrum, which has improved my life because I can explain to people that I’m not trying to be a jerk; I just can’t read their nonverbal cues… and if they tell me “it’s okay” when I do something wrong, I will keep doing that thing. It’s improved my relationships so much.

    You get way too much crap for your posts on Asperger’s, so here’s a “thank-you” in the midst of all the “DON’T SAY THE R-WORD”s.

  10. LC
    LC says:

    Penelope, thank you! It never ever occurred to me that I had Asperger’s, even after reading your blog for years. But, this post hit me in a new way, I’m scared to have children because I think I’ll struggle with their daily needs. So I took 5 online tests–every one came out on the spectrum. So perhaps I do. I love the post title, because, who do you tell and who don’t you tell? Who will try to understand and who will say it’s over diagnosis? I try so hard to be “normal” and what else do I need to address? Knowing I’m probably on the spectrum is so helpful so I can find resources. Thank you ; )

  11. Thats funny
    Thats funny says:

    >Of course, this is just a nice way of saying that women with Aspergers are retarded women. But the truth is that neurotypical men still look like social retards compared to neurotypical women.

    Talk about hate, lol. Having that kind of chip on your shoulder is why you think you have aspergers and why people don’t like interacting with you.

  12. Debra Knight
    Debra Knight says:

    Thanks Penelope for your insights. I have on occasion wondered if I had a touch of Autism, didn’t think to call is Aspergers even though we have Asperger family members. But reading this blog sorta described my entire life, I’m 65. I’ve struggled with the common Aspergers’ struggles as you have described but have also been successful in business and have had a long term successful personal relationship. Funny thing, after my boyfriend, now husband, was with me for a couple years and it looked like he would stay around, every member of my family took him aside and thanked him for putting up with me. I’ve never had a professional diagnosis, didn’t even think of getting one until now, but always knew I was different. I’m also a DES child as my mother was given Diethylstilbesterol (sp?) while pregnant with me, which is pretty much having the testosterone hormone flooding my brain and body in her womb. Any number of people in my past have declared I think more like a guy and I certainly relate to men much better than women though I have a problem relating to people at all and often prefer to have no one around. Hate small talk and become intensely interested and pursue subjects with diligence till I learn everything about the subject. Your blog enlightened me that I might actually be on the spectrum as I have occasionally wondered but never seriously thought it might be true since I know the statistics about boys. This explains a lot about my life. Thank you for posting, I came across this quite by accident but now you’re on my list for regular reading. And thanks for enlightening your audience about Aspergers in girls, it explains a lot to me about the struggles I’ve had in life. That being said, I wouldn’t change a thing about my life, I’ve survived it this long and am thriving.

  13. Kris
    Kris says:

    Hmm, do you think I am a lady with Aspergers? I was a super quiet kid and I had trouble early on in school because of some kind of disability that manifests itself as not being able to spell out loud and not being able to follow when other people spell words out loud. In fourth grade, I scored above average on an IQ test (130 – 135), which is high but not high enough so that I can’t get along with normal people. My ex-husband had an IQ of 165 which made it impossible for him to get along with regular people (or me for that matter). On personality tests, I always get an N and a P, but the other E/I and T/J jump around each time. I think ENFP describes me best especially “the functional walking idea generator” part. I was very shy and reserved when I was younger but now I think my ability to relate to and enjoy all different types of people is my best quality. However, I don’t like being around people when I’m tired because while the analytical and intuitive part of my brain keeps turning but my social skills start to break down and I’m terrified of saying something that will make people hate me. I also have had sleep issues my whole life. I have had good professional jobs with roles at VP and Director level but started struggling with work when I had my two kids around age 40. I finally quit in 2017 and went out on my own and I feel like I have died and gone to heaven.

  14. Super
    Super says:

    “Retards” is hugely offensive. I wanted to link to your blog but just can’t due to this epithet. (And no being on the spectrum doesn’t mean you get to use the R word as a pejorative.)

  15. Sondra Poorbaugh
    Sondra Poorbaugh says:

    I agree that it’s important to help girls understand how they see themselves when they have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at the age of 30, but began to discover I had most of the traits of a female with Asperger’s Syndrome as we were getting my son diagnosed. I was very awkward as an only child and as I look back into my childhood years I realized that I lacked friendships and behaved quite differently compared to other girls. I used to be ashamed of how I acted as a child, not understanding my thinking behind my actions. I am not gifted in Math and I have many traits of ADHD, making academics a challenge in school. I did like school because it provided structure, something I crave. It has not been an easy journey for me and if my Bipolar isn’t rearing it’s ugly head, I battle being alone. I have lost some good friends due to lack of judgment when making comments. Sigh. Sometimes it’s hard to be around people, yet I don’t want to be alone. I have a great husband, but I can’t expect him to be everything to me.
    I would love to reach out to other young girls who are just now learning how to cope with their diagnosis. At least they can have a better understanding of the ups and downs of Aspergerg’s Syndrome and develop their own identity. One that will strengthen and encourage them so they can have a productive life as an adult. It takes work, but living with Asperger’s Syndrome and other co-morbid illnesses can be manageable.

  16. Marjoleine
    Marjoleine says:

    I am 37 and discovered a few months ago that I have Aspergers. My entire life suddenly made sense but I also feel so frustrated about it. I’m in a difficult phase of trying to accept my situation. Your article made me laugh and relaxed me a little. I like your brutal honesty and way of saying things. I just want to say thank you.

  17. Deana Desjardins
    Deana Desjardins says:

    I have always known that I struggled socially, but I still managed to make a life with kids and husbands. After 6 years of being single (I left a 25-year marriage that was decidedly unhealthy) I began pushing to find out why I was struggling to make a new life of intimacy. What I discovered was a suggestion by my counselor that I could have Asbergers. I’ve been reading articles and blogs for a few days, and I’m expecting a book delivered tomorrow to see if it “resonates”. The shock is setting in. I found myself googling “are women with Asbergers retarded?” and I found this blog. I appreciate that Penelope knows my concerns and is working to demystify them. I am heartbroken right now as I ask myself if I even know how to be relationally intimate with a healthy partner. I am a spiritual student and counselor in training, and I am active with like-minded people. But, even with my “awakening” work, if I have Asbergers, can I bridge the neurological gap of who I might be with the desire to intimately connect? Thank you all for your insights, and Penelope for her honesty and forthrightness. I have these same qualities…

  18. K
    K says:

    Hi Penelope, you say “I am so sick of people telling me I don’t have Aspergers” – people say that? That’s an odd thing for them to say! Although my mother told me I don’t, but then again she might be right. Also do you have a formal diagnosis? If so shoot it on over to Wikipedia, their article about you says that you claim to have Asperger Syndrome. So if you get them to change it, then anyone who doubts, just refer them over to Wikipedia! Since no doubt Wikipedia is the expert on such things…

    • Autistic 1957
      Autistic 1957 says:

      I changed to “diagnosed”. It says “diagnosed” in the cited article so that is how it should read. Claims implies making it up for attention.

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