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    Autism Society of Minnesota
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Women on the spectrum find a comfort place together

thumbnail Surene and LauraFor some adults on the spectrum, a challenge can be finding like-minded people who want to socialize.

For Surene Henderson and Laura Dettloff, that challenge is made even more difficult by the fact that, as women on the spectrum, they often feel out of place in groups dominated by men.

“Autism presents really differently in women than in men,” Henderson explains. “The way autism is talked about in the media is so guy-centric and kid-centric that adult women get lost. It’s so different to be diagnosed as an adult woman.”

In 2012, Henderson began attending AuSM's Independent Adults with Autism Social Support Group, and while she appreciated it, she quickly realized that a women-only group was necessary.

Henderson and a few women from the co-ed adult group formed AuSM’s Women with Autism Support Group, a place that has become a source of comfort and camaraderie for participants.

Dettloff said, “Something I’ve noticed, ever since the very first women’s group, is that all of us say the same thing at our first meeting.”

Henderson agrees and fills in: “‘I just want to be with other autistic women and see what they’re like’.”

The group has become more than just a place of relating with other women for Dettloff and Henderson. It’s the place where their friendship has blossomed.

One AuSM staff member said of their friendship, “It’s almost like they’re the same person. If I tell something to Surene, I assume Laura knows, and vice versa.”

Dettloff notes that being friends with Henderson is freeing. “Neither of us has to hide or feel self-conscious about our sensory sensitivities. Neither of us likes crowds, loud noises, flashing lights, or strong smells; we both understand that things that are ‘supposed’ to be fun are not going to be fun at all, and we don’t pressure ourselves to do them out of a sense of needing to fit in.”

Instead of going to bars or live music events, they see movies at off hours when the theater is empty, or spend time at coffee shops. Sometimes they go camping together, and both understand that planning ahead is essential due to a need for routine.

For Dettloff and Henderson, there’s nothing quite like being around someone who just understands you.

“You’re my best friend” Henderson told Dettloff. “I’ve never had a friend outside of family.”

Dettloff replied, “You’re my best friend, too.”