Autism Conference day 2

5 Feb

Dena Gassner


Dena is the second of 3 generations of persons with autism in her family.

She advocates strongly for the correct diagnosis of women with autistic disorders. She believes that women are vastly under diagnosed.

She also talked about an “invisibility bias.” People are generally more accepting and understanding of disabilities that they can see. But the concept of “normality” is a false one. “Normal” does not exist.

Many women are misdiagnosed. Common diagnoses for women who might be on the spectrum:



-Eating disorders possibly caused by visual perception problems

-Immune dysfunction

-Sensory problems resulting in avoidance issues


-Domestic and workplace violence

– Social paranoia

– alienation

– Troubled family relationships

-intense splinter interests. Dena’s is autism.

Women of color are the most under diagnosed

Unidentified mothers struggle more and succeed less than neurotypical mothers to obtain supports for their children with autism.

Dena said she has never met an adult on the autism spectrum who has not had some background of sexual abuse.

Research suggests that boys outnumber girls with autism 4:1. However Dena believes that this is a myth. She believes that women are not diagnosed because they tend to be under responsive to sensory overload. Weepiness, anxiety, fatigue, day dreaming and mostly by a sense of engulfing, unbearable helplessness and an inability to have an impact or control on outcomes.(!)

When do you tell a child that they have autism?

After talking to parents of children of autism and parents with autism, they all agreed that it shouldn’t be an issue. It should be like having blue eyes. It should be natural and parents often have enough similarity with their kids that they probably have it themselves!

Dena encourages the use of scripting to develop a larger body of language and mimicry. She, herself, used the humor of Carol Burnett to develop her own humor.

When her daughter told her that she was a lesbian, Dena was thankful that it wasn’t autism.


When talking about societal gender bias, she spoke about how men can be successful just by working. However, women with autism are judged more harshly. They typically fail to manage time, space and resources.

Sounds eerily like Jane.

Another good article featuring Dena can be found here.


2 Responses to “Autism Conference day 2”

  1. caelesti March 15, 2006 at 10:39 pm #

    “invisibility bias.” People are generally more accepting and understanding of disabilities that they can see-

    So true- people will accuse me of “making it up” or using it as an excuse. Of course the flip side is that you can sometimes pass as “normal”

    Some friends and I have talked about how autism might manifest differently in women, and that those of us who do get diagnosed have “male-pattern autism” as it were.

  2. Dick March 17, 2006 at 3:25 pm #

    Whatever “normal” really is…

    There are NO behaviors unique to autism. Everyone engages in behaviors that might be classified as “self-stimulatory”, or might have certain restrictive interests. It is all of the behavioral characteristics taken together that puts a person somewhere on the spectrum as well as their skill at adapting themselves to the rest of the world.

    Some of us have to work harder at adapting than others.


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