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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 However, some also appeared to endorse outdated myths and stereotypes.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 references 20

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          Is Open Access

          Feeling, caring, knowing: different types of empathy deficit in boys with psychopathic tendencies and autism spectrum disorder

          Background Empathy dysfunction is one of the hallmarks of psychopathy, but it is also sometimes thought to characterise autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Individuals with either condition can appear uncaring towards others. This study set out to compare and contrast directly boys with psychopathic tendencies and boys with ASD on tasks assessing aspects of affective empathy and cognitive perspective taking. The main aim of the study was to assess whether a distinct profile of empathy deficits would emerge for boys with psychopathic tendencies and ASD, and whether empathy deficits would be associated with conduct problems in general, rather than psychopathic tendencies or ASD specifically. Methods Four groups of boys aged between 9 and 16 years (N = 96) were compared: 1) psychopathic tendencies, 2) ASD, 3) conduct problems and 4) comparison. Tasks were included to probe attribution of emotions to self, empathy for victims of aggression and cognitive perspective-taking ability. Results Boys with psychopathic tendencies had a profile consistent with dysfunctional affective empathy. They reported experiencing less fear and less empathy for victims of aggression than comparison boys. Their cognitive perspective-taking abilities were not statistically significantly different from those of comparison boys. In contrast, boys with ASD had difficulties with tasks requiring cognitive perspective taking, but reported emotional experiences and victim empathy that were in line with comparison boys. Boys with conduct problems did not differ from comparison boys, suggesting that the affective empathy deficit seen in boys with psychopathic tendencies was specific to that group, rather than common to all boys with conduct problems. Conclusions Although both groups can appear uncaring, our findings suggest that the affective/information processing correlates of psychopathic tendencies and ASD are quite different. Psychopathic tendencies are associated with difficulties in resonating with other people’s distress, whereas ASD is characterised by difficulties in knowing what other people think.
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            Racial/ethnic disparities in the identification of children with autism spectrum disorders.

            We sought to examine racial and ethnic disparities in the recognition of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Within a multisite network, 2568 children aged 8 years were identified as meeting surveillance criteria for ASD through abstraction of evaluation records from multiple sources. Through logistic regression with random effects for site, we estimated the association between race/ethnicity and documented ASD, adjusting for gender, IQ, birthweight, and maternal education. Fifty-eight percent of children had a documented autism spectrum disorder. In adjusted analyses, children who were Black (odds ratio [OR] = 0.79; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.64, 0.96), Hispanic (OR = 0.76; CI = 0.56, 0.99), or of other race/ethnicity (OR = 0.65; CI = 0.43, 0.97) were less likely than were White children to have a documented ASD. This disparity persisted for Black children, regardless of IQ, and was concentrated for children of other ethnicities when IQ was lower than 70. Significant racial/ethnic disparities exist in the recognition of ASD. For some children in some racial/ethnic groups, the presence of intellectual disability may affect professionals' further assessment of developmental delay. Our findings suggest the need for continued professional education related to the heterogeneity of the presentation of ASD.
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              Outcome in Adult Life for more Able Individuals with Autism or Asperger Syndrome

               P Howlin (2000)

                Author and article information

                Advances in Autism
                Emerald Publishing
                12 March 2019
                : 5
                Issue : 1 Issue title : Women, girls, and autism spectrum disorders: part I Issue title : Women, girls, and autism: part I
                : 50-63
                Sapphire Ward, Newham Centre for Mental Health, London, UK
                Department of Medicine, University of Leicester Medical School , Leicester, UK
                University of Leicester Medical School , Leicester, UK
                Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal and Research, University of Warwick , Coventry, UK
                Department of Psychiatry, Partnerships in Care Learning Disability Services, Diss, UK
                Department of Psychiatry, Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, Leicester, UK
                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:
                622499 AIA-09-2018-0037.pdf AIA-09-2018-0037
                © Emerald Publishing Limited
                Page count
                Figures: 0, Tables: 1, Equations: 0, References: 65, Pages: 14, Words: 8072
                research-article, Research paper
                cat-HSC, Health & social care
                Custom metadata


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