In 2021, mother of three Christine McGuinness discovered that she was autistic and suddenly her whole life began to make sense. All the struggles she faced growing up became clear and she started to look at things with a new perspective and figure out who she really is.
There are thousands of women in the UK, just like Christine, who have been battling with undiagnosed autism for decades. In this heartfelt journey of self-discovery Christine uncovers a hidden world of autistic women and girls who have been ignored and misunderstood on a huge scale by science and society and raises important questions around the effects of gender bias in diagnoses and support.
She meets other women who have recently been diagnosed with autism, like Leanne who had been previously misdiagnosed, leading to overmedication and even attempts at taking her own life. She also meets Fi who has been battling anorexia for nearly ten years including being hospitalised when things were really bad. Fi was recently diagnosed autistic and is now on an autism-friendly treatment plan.
As Christine reassesses her own personal tale of disordered eating she visits Professor Kate Tchanturia, a leading expert in autism and anorexia who has designed the autism-friendly approach to treating anorexia that Fi has benefitted from. She meets other experts like Francesca Happé who explains that autism in women and girls may present differently to men and that a lot of the research into autism hasn’t been done on women so it’s no wonder that women are misunderstood. And she meets three doctors who are exploring how to change the ‘gold standard’ test for autism by tuning the questions to better spot the more subtle ways that a lot of autistic women present. They also discuss the vulnerabilities of the women they work with and reveal that 9 in 10 autistic women have experienced sexual assault, or rape.
As Christine reflects on her childhood in Liverpool, she wonders if some of the experiences she’s had in past relationships could have been prevented and she visits the only school in the country dedicated solely to educating autistic girls.
Finally, Christine meets a group of autistic mums and, for the first time in her life, she feels like she has found her tribe. Reflecting on her journey she feels she can finally look forward to a life full of adventure, equipped with the understanding and acceptance of who she is.
Christine McGuinness: Unmasking My Autism
Wednesday at 9.00pm on BBC One.
Image: ©BBC/Optomen/Duncan Stingemore.
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