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Gender & Neurodiversity: Recognizing the Diversity Within the Autism Spectrum, with Tania Marshall | EDB 54

In this episode, Harold Reitman, M.D. continues his conversation with Australian psychologist and award-winning author Tania Marshall. Tania discusses maximizing the potential of women on the autism spectrum, the differences between resources for women in Australia and North America, and the subject of transgender individuals that are neurodiverse.

Be sure to check out Tania’s previous episode here.

For more about Tania, visit: http://www.taniamarshall.com/

For more about the AspienGirl book series, visit: http://www.AspienGirl.com/

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HACKIE REITMAN, M.D. (HR): Welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains. In this one we’re continuing our great conversation with Tania Marshall, the author of Aspien Girl and the whole Aspien series. One of the worlds authorities on so many different things including and especially females with Asperger’s, welcome Tania Marshall.


TANIA MARSHALL (TM): Hi, thank you Hackie for having me here.


HR: What do you feel are the cultural differences between Australia and the United States that might have different effects on the Aspien females? If any?


TM: That’s a good question, I’ve lived in Canada for 26 years and I’ve worked with females back then as well who presented very much like Asperger’s. That was before Asperger’s went into the DSM or it was translated so I’m not sure if there are any differences because I think between this country and North America, there are differences but I think the pressures on women are still there for both countries. And I because now since were so globally connected through the internet, a lot of people on the spectrum like to be on the internet, they like to socialize on the internet and so It’s sort of like a global village, when you look at instagram and all of those social media there is a big push there that pressure the women to look and appear a certain way, I think is very difficult, I think the pressure to socialize and the expectations that we should be social are ever so present and exhausting for people on the spectrum. In Australia here we had a major crisis within the education system, which is not news to you. When I was in Canada I used to work in a private special needs school which was really a private school for neurodiverse children from k to 12 and it was excellent, it had speech therapy there, occupational therapy there, psychology there, music therapy there, they got to do mediation and yoga for their anxiety, it was fantastic. So here we have a school system here in Australia that is really based for the average typical child. So where do all the neurodiverse, and I include the neurodiverse in the neurodiverse is the twice exceptional so the gifted along with Asperger’s or gifted with learning disabled or gifted with anxiety. They’re the majority of the clients I actually work with, their IQs are stratospheric. But they do have some challenges and the challenge we have here is how to educate them because there aren’t any education institutions here for them. And many of them are being homeschooled.


HR: You know Tania, you are a member of the club of females, what is the one piece of advice you would give a male who is a caring third party of any kind to an Aspien female?


TM: When families come in here or partners or siblings or teachers, it’s pretty much similar, I really like your daughter’s quote about the snowflake, that each girl or female is an individual, and I would say let her be herself, focus on her strength that would be number 2, number 3 would be allow her to have solitude, number 4 would be help her with her anxiety. Much like Temple Grandin’s new book, The Loving Push, pushing lovingly at their own pace.


HR: Stretching as Temple Grandin says.


TM: Absolutely she does. I use a step plan, started at the bottom a little bit of a step plan as we get to our goal, and that’s really important because the girls and the females I’m working with, these are females or adults that have perfect pitch or professionally artistic capabilities or they’re writing poems but what’s holding them back is anxiety or depression or having a break down, once we can get their mental health addressed you should see what they can do.


HR: Absolutely, that’s very well said. With my daughter Rebecca, in addition to Asperger’s which I was not aware she had until she was in her mid 20s due to my ignorance, she also has seizures, she also has a great deal of anxiety, she also had 23 brain tumors and had two major brain surgeries and despite that she was using her hard work and gifts to get a discrete mathematics degree from Georgia tech and now wanting to follow in certain people’s footsteps who are in this interview, she’s 1/3 of the way through he masters degree in applied psychology.


TM: She sounds like an amazing woman.


HR: Well thank you, she is and so are you, and so are so many other woman who don’t get the opportunity to harvest their unique gifts and abilities.


TM: That’s actually what my third book is about that I’m writing right now. Is I’m talking about in my book all the females I’ve met and their gifts and their abilities and they’re strengths and their talents. Because they get identified from a deficit based approach, lots of professionals focus on and we can understand why because they need support in some areas, but there isn’t a focus or even a look at or what are these girls able to do? It’s incredible some of the clients I’ve met over the years from professional singers to professional artists these are people that are paid.


HR: And to make matters worse to amplify that point, I’m always amazing at we parents how woefully ignorant we are of what our child is interested in, what is their possible passion. No we were busy saying don’t do this, do that, stop playing that music. Now lets talk a bit about something that surprised me at first but then I though about it and maybe it shouldn’t be such a surprise, when I did a webinar for the AANE, Asperger’s autism network, originally new England but they spread out all over, it went to like 36 states and 8 countries what I was surprised at in the interactivity that there were a lot of trans genders and a lot of gender and sexual preference confusion, maybe confusion is the wrong word. I would like you as especially from the female point of you, if you wouldn’t mind commenting on that.


TM: Yes, there appears to be a certain proportion of people on the spectrum who I’d say a lot of people are I’d like to say gender fluidity where they see the person first, not the gender, not the age of the person and not the sex of the person. That’s not as important to a person on the spectrum as who the person is, personality or morality or what they do or how interesting they are, now I’ve met quite a few females of all ages even from very young who felt like they were more adagenios, they wanted to be a boy, some of them have out grown it or just confused by not being able to get along with girls and really getting along with boys better so thinking they should maybe be a boy, or they were born in the wrong body, so there is confusion around that, and I’ve met some who adults have made that transition to being a male because they feel better that way and they’ve felt maybe more socially accepted as a male, that it was easier to live life as a male than a female. So it’s very dependent on the person and their age and so on and so on. Whether or not if they got an early diagnosis, an early intervention where there could be a discussion around identity and disphoria and androgyny transgenderism and so on and so on. I’ve met recently someone who was just diagnosed late, so a lot of late diagnosed people and this particular person made up their mind this was the reverse he thought the reason for his confusion and depression was because he was supposed to be female. So their needs to be a lot of work around the diagnosis and explaining the diagnosis and the work on identity before people make rash decisions.


HR: See I thought, I was trying to think of it in different terms, in that I find, first of all I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said, I just mean there is an additional factor, I think of it as a logical exercise. If you are naturally and instinctually, for instance you know how some Aspies or autistic individuals get in an elevator and face backwards, until they get taught how to face frontwards, certain things don’t a care so if you don’t have an instinctually sex drive to the opposite sex you might think of it as a logical thing. I’m a guy, I’m attracted to females but lets say I didn’t have that drive and I was going to figured it out who I wanted to be with intimately with for an example, I would say look, these females smell better, they’re nicer, guys are rude and burp a lot and do other things, I think I’d rather be with the softer ones kind of thing there might be a logical approach what are your thoughts on where logic plays in figuring this out for an Aspie.


TM: Well I think that particular example of those gentlemen I was referring to be very logical, he had black and white thinking and he was very logical. He felt that his reason, the reason for his depression and the reason for his confusion over the years, and he’s very bright, he just logically felt that and he had been talking to some peers on social media and been on some forums and just came to this conclusion that logically “I think I was born in the wrong body” and so that’s his decision at this point.


HR: What has been in your experience with the frequency in males vs. females with Asperger’s?


TM: We’re sort of looking at a ratio of 4 to 2 but personally I think that the more we learn about females and as I think it’s going to be 1 to 1. I’m really actually pleased with the kind of research and I mean its the research in general on autism and neurodiversity its almost impossible to keep up with it, but the amount of research that is coming out on females is just fantastic and gender differences just last year and this year alone. Probably been about 15 to 20 studies or more. And I know the Yale project is a huge project on females, it’s taken half the time that its taken to identify autism in males that it will take much less time for us to catch up and start helping and supporting and identifying females addressing their challenges so that we can see their gifts.


HR: I’d like you to share with our audience how they might get in touch with you?


TM: Sure, I have my own website which is at TaniaMarshall.com and that’s Tania with an I. that’s devoted to Asperger’s and there is a lot of female research, a lot of different kind of research on there so when people want to find out about research or the characteristics they can go there. There is also the book’s website which is aspiengirl.com there is also a blog that I have tanianmarshall.wordpress.com I also have an amazon author website where you can find out more information about my books. In the future we’re going to be doing a webinar series and another book series, which is a different kind of book series for young girls.


HR: Tania you know a lot of our viewers out there and listeners who after experiencing you and I have to say you are wonderful, maybe you’re going to want to go into your field, tell us about your educational background and very importantly how did you get into all of this?


TM: Well it was a long time ago when I first started I was actually volunteering because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but I was really interested in psychology and so I went an volunteered at a day center, and at that time a day center was many homeless people many people who weren’t able to work for a variety of reasons and had a variety of different labels and in this day center there were quite a few people, male and female who were really smart. We would sit and play chess and we would sit and talk about quantum physics or physics or space or all kinds of things and it was obviously to me that they were really bright but how are they so bright and their here how is it that there here or they struggle with life skills if you fast ward several years, some of them had the typical profile traits of either autism or Asperger’s along with comorbid conditions because they’ve been unidentified or hadn’t received the intervention. So I thought well I’m going to go into this area because they were very interesting people, the term now is twice exceptional so they were gifted plus additional things, neurodiverse is what they were, they just hadn’t received the right intervention to be able to share their gifts with their world. So then I went to university and got my undergrad and did my internship at the children’s hospital in the ADHD and autism clinic and then I did my masters and my externship an 18 month full time externship at a private special needs school for neurodiverse children, they didn’t call them that but they are neurodiverse from k to 12 and that was probably the best practical experiences along with the children’s hospital internship that I had because I got to meet every little snowflakes. All of those little snowflakes, they were all different and that was the best learning, far better than any text book. So that’s how I got into it and I’ve been doing this ever since.


HR: well we’re so glad that you did because Tania Marshall you’re helping so many people, not only with your writing and your books and with your actual practice and your hands on approach and your telemedicine and your everything your doing, but you’re and inspiration also.


TM: Thank you; well right back at you, neurodiversity is where it’s.


HR: Thank you so much for being with us. We’ve had the pleasure of speaking today with Tania Marshall, the author as you’ve just heard of so many great works and we hope to see her again we hope to be collaborating with her we hope to be telling the whole world about the great work that Tania Marshall is doing. Tania, thank you so much.


TM: Thank you Hackie absolute pleasure, I hope to work with you again in the future.





This video is owned by Different Brains Inc, kindly donated by it’s original producer PCE Media LLC.

Author Image

Different Brains® Inc. founder Harold “Hackie” Reitman, M.D. is an author, filmmaker, retired orthopedic surgeon, former professional heavyweight boxer, the past chairman and president (and current board member) of The Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County, and a neurodiversity advocate. However, it was his role as a father that led to the creation of the DifferentBrains.org website.

Hackie’s daughter Rebecca grew up with epilepsy, 23 vascular brains tumors, and underwent 2 brain surgeries before the age of 5. Her struggles and recovery put him on the road to, through 26 professional heavyweight boxing matches, raising money for children’s charities (to which he donated every fight purse).

Rebecca eventually went on to graduate from Georgia Tech with a degree in Discrete Mathematics, and Dr. Reitman wrote and produced a film based on her experiences there (The Square Root of 2, starring Darby Stanchfield of ABC’s Scandal). After graduation, Rebecca received a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. Hackie, shocked at his own ignorance of the topic despite being an M.D., embarked on years of research that culminated with his book Aspertools: The Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Neurodiversity (released by HCI books, publishers of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series).

This experience revealed to Hackie the interconnectedness of the conditions that fall under the neurodiversity umbrella, while alerting him to the in-fighting and fractured relations that often plague the organizations tasked with serving the community. Convinced that overcoming these schisms could help all of society, Hackie forged the Different Brains philosophy of inclusive advocacy: “Supporting Neurodiversity – From Autism to Alzheimer’s and All Brains In Between”.

In the company’s initial years of operation, Hackie self-financed all of the content on DifferentBrains.org, all of which offered free to view to the public. Currently he is the host of our weekly interview show Exploring Different Brains, writes blogs for the site, and tours the country speaking at conferences, conventions and private functions, all with the goal of improving the lives of neurodiverse individuals and their families, and maximizing the potential of those with different brains. Separate from Different Brains, Hackie is the founder and CEO of PCE Media, a media production company focusing on reality based content. He recently co-executive produced the documentary “Foreman”, the definitive feature documentary on legendary boxer and pitchman George Foreman.