Jennifer O’Toole: The Sisterhood of the Spectrum

The following is an excerpt from Jennifer O’Toole’s upcoming 6th book, The Sisterhood of the Spectrum: An Asperger Chick’s Guide to Life


Girls are no “less Aspie.” We’re just less obvious.

Maybe you’ve never quite “blended” with other people — or you’ve had to work really hard at it. But….you don’t really see yourself in any of the things you’ve heard about autism or Asperger’s, either. Sort of like being invisible to everyone.

Well, it turns out there’s a reason we often don’t recognize ourselves here or there. When doctors, parents, teachers, therapists, even television describe “typical” spectrum kids, without meaning to, they’re describing typically “male” spectrum traits — patterns first noticed by observing boys. Only boys. And we aren’t boys.

So they miss and mislabel us. They let us down. Often.

You may know that Thomas the Train, dinosaurs, space, architecture, and transportation are very common special interests for spectrum boys. Now, I definitely loved dinos and space….but the rest of those? Nah. Not really. Maybe you loved airplanes. Maybe not. The point is that a lot of girls also geek out over dog breeds, horses, cute collectibles like Ever After High, Littlest Pet Shop, My Little Ponies, or Smurfs. Girls love our sci fi, too, but we’d just as soon dive into biographies, family trees of kings and queens, Broadway shows, or historical clothing. Maybe, instead of Pokemon, our love is fairies or Barbies, especially if those Barbies are quietly acting out a historical event or favorite Greek myth. And don’t be surprised if, when we play “princess,” we’re not “Cinderella.” We’re being Juliet. (Duh.)

Our Story

What’s it like to be a girl on the spectrum? That’s a question I get a lot, and although it’s taken me awhile to come up with a decent answer — I think this may finally be it: too much. We feel too much. React too much. Say too much. Need too much. So says the world. Except the world is wrong.

Somewhere along my way, I discovered that there is no way to be too you. Ask someone to behave as or aspire to anything less, and you are asking that someone to be something less.

And you know what’s most ironic? The word “autism” comes from the same root as “autograph” and “automobile.” “Auto” means “self.” We are self-referenced, certainly. We have a hard time separating our wants and desires and thoughts from everyone else’s, true. But, that’s not because we have so much self. It’s because we have so little sense of ourselves…

Yes, in a lot of ways, life is easier if you’re “typical.” To tell you anything less would be a lie. And everything I tell you – everything – is going to be true.

If you’re a spectrum girl, you can probably mimic accents and gestures, you may “fool” everyone by how well you “pass.” But guess what? “Blending in” means not showing up. It means a lifetime of falling short of a goal that’s not meant to be yours anyway: typicality.

You are NOT typical, thank goodness. And that’s why, in a million subtle, abundant ways, YOU already are beautiful and strong. You are a gift to this world. A one-time only appearance. A perfect rendition of YOU in progress…

Think you’ve messed up too badly to go on? Nope. Happily, you cannot actually die of embarrassment (I know — I am the lab rat). More than that, mistakes aren’t mistakes if we learn from them. They’re lessons. And let me tell you, I’ve learned a whole LOT of lessons along the way.

Who you are isn’t one person — and she won’t stay the same forever. If you’re going to “just be yourself,” you need to know that — just by showing up on this planet — you have permission to be an ever-changing, complicated, dynamic, MIGHTY BEAUTY. Once you believe that, once you get that, there is literally nothing that can stand in your way…

Quirks, misunderstandings, hurts, and blunders – courage, tenacity, fidelity, and joy – they are all part of being the kind of different we are. Even in a world that’s coming to understand autism/Asperger’s a little bit, spectrum girls are amazingly invisible….even to ourselves.

Which is ridiculous. We’re everywhere. We always have been. This world is as much ours as anyone else’s. More than that, this world needs our intensity, our wit, our creativity, our work, our ideas, our kindness….it needs us. Really. It needs you.

Keep calm and carry on? No thanks. I’d rather stir it up and change the world…because you deserve to look in the mirror and see far more than a face or body part…more than someone’s daughter or student or sister or girlfriend.

You are your own wondrous occasion.
More than a one in a million kind of girl,

you’re a once in a lifetime kind of person.

You’re mighty.

And beautiful.

And brilliant.

Intense. Impulsive. Vivacious. Introverted. Perfectionistic. Inquisitive. Effervescent. Tentative. Impetuous. Measured. Complex. Genuine. Yearning. Fragile. Mighty. All at once.

That’s you. That’s us. That’s the sisterhood on the spectrum.


Jennifer Cook O’Toole has Asperger syndrome and is the mother to three young Aspie children. She graduated from Brown University, and attended Columbia University’s Graduate School of Social Work. She has previously worked as a social worker, and a teacher in both special needs and mainstream education.

Jennifer will be kicking off the Autism Unveiled Project February 18, 2015. Her website is She has graciously given us some freebies to kick-off our project. More coming soon on that!

Jennifer has given The Art of Autism the Asperkids Seal of Awesomeness. The Art of Autism is coming up with a new website later this week and we are proud to display this badge.


7 replies on “Jennifer O’Toole: The Sisterhood of the Spectrum”
  1. Well said, Jennifer, though you speak for more than just females on the spectrum. In one way or another, you speak for most of us. Not to boast, only to bare a truth, as the mother of an adult male on the spectrum, I often see my son in me. And those parts of him in me are often the parts I value most in both of us… Know what I mean?

    1. says: Jennifer

      I do know! That’s because – as I say – what I’ve learned most from my autism isn’t how to be autistic. It’s how to be HUMAN. Truth applies to everyone. XO

  2. Thanks for sharing – I have a teen daughter on the spectrum and I am happy to say that she sees herself as awesome – but that has not always been the case. We have spent a lot of time and effort getting her to understand that being happy with who you are is more important than fitting in will ever be.

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