Christine McGuinness, a British television personality and model, was diagnosed with autism in 2021, when she was 33 years old.
To her, this explained a lot. When she was a teenager, she had a lot of difficulty concentrating at school, where she got in trouble for throwing chairs on the floor.
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McGuinness dropped out of school at the age of 14, without a degree.
“I was a very confused young woman, lost, not knowing where she could fit in,” she tells BBC journalist Harvey Day.
As a child, McGuinness recalls, she only ate beige foods because she had sensory issues. This caused her as a teenager to suffer from an eating disorder that caused her to lose her menstrual periods.
McGuinness is hypersensitive to sounds and smells, which makes it difficult for him to be in crowded or noisy places.
“I always wanted to wear earplugs,” says McGuinness, referring to certain noises that upset her in a room, such as a ticking clock.
However, one of the most difficult events of his life took place when he was younger. McGuinness recounts that he was abused from the age of 9 to 11, and raped when she was 14.
The experience was so traumatic that every night he prayed not to wake up in the morning. “Just because it was horrible,” she says.
McGuinness’s case is not unique. As explained to the BBC by Sarah Lister Brook, clinical director of the National Autistic Society, a large numbers of autistic women and girls report experiences of sexual abuse.
This can take the form of coercive, physical or sexual abuse. “This is a serious and deeply concerning issue,” Brook adds.
According to a 2022 study carried out in the United Kingdom, based on 225 participants, about 9 out of 10 women autistic have been victims of sexual abuse. “Two-thirds of the victims were very young when they were first abused,” the study authors add.
“It is exhausting”
Autism is not defined as a disease but as a disorder by which a person’s brain works differently from that of others.
And it is considered as a spectrum (autism spectrum disorder), that is, each autistic person is different.
Some common characteristics may include finding it difficult to communication and interaction with other people, or feel anxious in unfamiliar situations, or doing certain things in unfamiliar ways repetitive.
The diagnosis of autism is often overlooked in women and girls because, historically, it is a disorder that is perceived to be more common among men and boys, or because women are more adept at hiding his autistic features.
For McGuinness, hiding the problem means, for example, practicing conversations before having them or imitating other people when in a group, just to fit in. “It’s exhausting,” she says.
One reason many women on the autism spectrum are more at risk of being sexually abused is because they are often left out of peer groups when they grow up, Rosie Creer, clinical director of Respond, an NGO dedicated to providing help to the BBC, tells the BBC. people with autism and learning difficulties who have been victims of abuse.
This can cause them to remain more exposed to exploitative relationships.
Other risk factors for women and girls with autism may include communication problems between them and people without autism, the feeling that they have to please others and the lack of accessible education about sex and consent, adds Creer.
“It’s pretty ordinary”
Like McGuinness, Sarah Douglas was diagnosed with autism as an adult. She tells that she was raped when she was a teenager and this led her to have panic attacks, eating disorders and self-harm for decades.
Douglas, who co-authored a book on the experiences of people with autism, agrees that women with autism like her often develop “people-pleasing behaviors and behaviors that hide (the problem)” so that others do not realize that they are different.
“I was a little prepared to be passive“, she comments. And she adds that the lack of sexual education, among other things, did not prepare her to identify possible abusers.
“My story It is not unusualthat’s a really terrible thing,” he says. “For a lot of autistic people, this is pretty normal.”
McGuinness, who was married until last year, says she felt better able to separate after she was diagnosed with autism.
“I was left in a situation where I probably wasn’t happy because it was safe and because I don’t like change,” she says.
But since her diagnosis, she says she has experienced many positive things.
“It helped me understand myself a lot better. I’m trying not to be so hard on myself.”
It has also helped her better understand her three children, who are on the autism spectrum, such as why they are not very sociable at times.
Sarah Douglas also says that her diagnosis allowed her to make positive changes in her life.
“It’s still me, but now I feel so much more complete. And that’s a very good thing.”
I am Jack Morton and I work in 24 News Recorder. I mostly cover world news and I have also authored 24 news recorder. I find this work highly interesting and it allows me to keep up with current events happening around the world.