A lack of media representations of women with ASD can have very real consequences; it can make women with ASD less likely to seek out or accept a diagnosis. Alice tells us that part of her rejection of her diagnosis was fueled by reading Mark Haddon's : The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime, the novel-turned-play that is one of the most famous narratives around ASD.
"I wasn't aware of any female autistic fictional characters at all until I was maybe 18," she tells Bustle. "My mum bought me a copy of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime when I was 13-ish because it was pretty much the only fiction with an autistic character around. I couldn't relate to it at all. It's about a boy who is very into maths and doesn't understand figurative language, and as a girl who was very into humanities and poetry I couldn't exactly relate."
Headmaster Sarah Wild of Limpsfield Grange, a British school focused on girls with ASD, tells Bustle that "I think autistic women and girls would certainly benefit from having positive role models, fictional or otherwise, in the public eye, and that this would certainly improve awareness and probably diagnosis rates for this under-represented group."
Representation isn't just important so that parents, medical professionals, or women with ASD themselves can understand more about how the disorder impacts women; realistic depictions of women with ASD can give us role models. When Bones ended in early 2017, Jennifer Malia, who was diagnosed as having ASD in her late 30s, wrote in Glamour, "Like Bones, I too am becoming more flexible in my views, seeing the world without relying only on logic. I’m also learning how to be more comfortable in my social environment by making more of an effort to initiate conversations...But now that Bones is ending, television needs more role models like her. In order to destigmatize autism, we need to see women who are on the spectrum, especially those who unknowingly hid their autism, as I did."
Unfortunately, when representation does occur, is still often quite narrow. Women with ASD on TV are almost always shown as white, financially secure, and science-oriented — stereotypes that fail to reflect the true diversity of women with ASD. "I thought Lisbeth Salander in the Millennium trilogy was pretty decent and she was really the first example of female autistic representation I encountered. I also enjoyed Fiona in the series Elementary," Alice tells Bustle. But, she notes, both characters have their limits. "Both these women are hackers, which is a huge and somewhat irritating stereotype in autistic representation (regardless of gender). I would like to see more representation of autistic women who work outside of STEM/tech, and also of non-white autistic women."
Just 16 percent of people with ASD and their families, the National Autistic Society tells Bustle, feel that the public understands ASD in a meaningful way. The dearth of female representation is part of that problem — and it won't change until TV realizes not just that stories of women with ASD are worth telling, but that women with ASD should be telling them themselves. "Fundamentally," Alice said, "I think the situation will improve when autistic women are actually consulted, or even better, at the forefront of efforts at representation. I think when that happens we will see a greater plurality of representation."