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      Characters with autism spectrum disorder in fiction: where are the women and girls?


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          Fiction has the potential to dispel myths and helps improve public understanding and knowledge of the experiences of under-represented groups. Representing the diversity of the population allows individuals to feel included, connected with and understood by society. Whether women and girls with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are adequately and accurately represented in fictional media is currently unknown. The paper aims to discuss this issue.


          Internet and library searches were conducted to identify female characters with ASD in works of fiction. Examples of such works were selected for further discussion based on their accessibility, perceived historical and cultural significance and additional characteristics that made the work particularly meaningful.


          The search highlighted a number of female characters with ASD across a range of media, including books, television, film, theatre and video games. Many were written by authors who had a diagnosis of the condition themselves, or other personal experience. Pieces largely portrayed characters with traits that are highly recognised within the academic literature. However, some also appeared to endorse outdated myths and stereotypes. Existing works appear to preferentially portray high functioning autistic women, with limited representation of those whom also have intellectual disability.


          This is the first exploration of the depiction of ASD in females within fiction. There is a need for more works of fiction responsibly depicting females with ASD, as this can help reduce stigma, develop public awareness and recognition and increase representation.

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          Most cited references56

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          What Is the Male-to-Female Ratio in Autism Spectrum Disorder? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

          To derive the first systematically calculated estimate of the relative proportion of boys and girls with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) through a meta-analysis of prevalence studies conducted since the introduction of the DSM-IV and the International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision.
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            The Empathy Quotient: An Investigation of Adults with Asperger Syndrome or High Functioning Autism, and Normal Sex Differences

              • Record: found
              • Abstract: found
              • Article: not found

              Sex differences in autism spectrum disorders.

              A strong male bias in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) prevalence has been observed with striking consistency, but no mechanism has yet to definitively account for this sex difference. This review explores the current status of epidemiological, genetic, and neuroendocrinological work addressing ASD prevalence and liability in males and females, so as to frame the major issues necessary to pursue a more complete understanding of the biological basis for sex-differential risk. Recent studies continue to report a male bias in ASD prevalence, but also suggest that sex differences in phenotypic presentation, including fewer restricted and repetitive behaviors and externalizing behavioral problems in females, may contribute to this bias. Genetic studies demonstrate that females are protected from the effects of heritable and de-novo ASD risk variants, and compelling work suggests that sex chromosomal genes and/or sex hormones, especially testosterone, may modulate the effects of genetic variation on the presentation of an autistic phenotype. ASDs affect females less frequently than males, and several sex-differential genetic and hormonal factors may contribute. Future work to determine the mechanisms by which these factors confer risk and protection to males and females is essential.

                Author and article information

                Advances in Autism
                Emerald Publishing
                14 February 2019
                28 February 2019
                : 5
                Issue : 1 Issue title : Women, girls, and autism spectrum disorders: part I Issue title : Women, girls, and autism: part I
                : 50-63
                [1]Sapphire Ward, Newham Centre for Mental Health, London, UK
                [2]Department of Medicine, University of Leicester Medical School , Leicester, UK
                [3] University of Leicester Medical School , Leicester, UK
                [4]Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal and Research, University of Warwick , Coventry, UK
                [5]Department of Psychiatry, Partnerships in Care Learning Disability Services, Diss, UK
                [6]Department of Psychiatry, Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, Leicester, UK
                [7]Department of Health Sciences, Mental health, Ageing, Public health and Primary care Group, University of Leicester , Leicester, UK
                Author notes
                Samuel Tromans can be contacted at: samueljtromans@doctors.org.uk
                622499 AIA-09-2018-0037.pdf AIA-09-2018-0037
                © Emerald Publishing Limited
                : 27 September 2018
                : 08 December 2018
                : 02 January 2019
                Page count
                Figures: 0, Tables: 1, Equations: 0, References: 65, Pages: 14, Words: 8072
                Self URI (journal-page): http://www.emeraldgrouppublishing.com/aia.htm
                research-article, Research paper
                cat-HSC, Health & social care
                Custom metadata

                Health & Social care
                Neurodevelopmental,Asperger’s syndrome,Media,Female,Autism spectrum disorder,Autism spectrum condition


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