Christine McGuinness: The Secret World of Autistic Women

Christine McGuinness: The Secret World of Autistic Women (BBC One, 9pm)
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Christine McGuinness was diagnosed with autism in November 2021, and has since spoken of the relief she has felt after “struggling” throughout her life.

The Blackpool-born model and Real Housewives of Cheshire star, who turns 35 next week, said that her diagnosis was “a positive thing” and that is has helped her to understand “why I am the way I am”.

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However, she also explained how an earlier diagnosis meant growing up “could have been very different if I had had been better understood during my school years”.

“It’s just the devastation I feel for myself as a child,” she said. “I’m heartbroken for that Christine.”

Autism can affect how people communicate and interact with the world.

According to the NHS, one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.

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Nobody knows what causes autism, or if it has a cause at all.

However, experts say that women and girls are routinely overlooked by health professionals as autism continues to be wrongly thought of as “a male disorder”.

Although data shows that tens of thousands more women tested themselves for autism last year, with numbers seeking tests now far outstripping men, autistic women and girls are neglected by health services due to them being more likely to conceal or internalise symptoms.

Christine previously shared her story of parenting three autistic children – twins Leo and Penelope and their sister Felicity – with husband Paddy McGuinness in 2021 BBC documentary Our Family and Autism.

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In the film, Christine and Paddy visited school kids and young adults with autism to find out more about what the future could hold for their own three children.

They spoke to youngsters about their experiences, consulted with development experts, and attempts to dispel dangerous myths surrounding links with autism and vaccines with leading scientists.

It was while making that documentary that Christine discovered her own diagnosis.

“Finally I understand myself and my own identity so much more now,” she says.

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Nevertheless, she has also revealed that she is still prone to “masking” to try and conform with neurotypical people.

Christine McGuinness: Unmasking My AutismChristine McGuinness: Unmasking My Autism
Christine McGuinness: Unmasking My Autism

She says: “I am aware that I ‘mask’ a lot, I try to fit in, I copy others and this is something I really want people to understand as this behaviour is often found in autistic people but more so women and girls.”

In tonight’s heartfelt new film, Christine is attempting to unravel the untold story of how autism in women and girls has been ignored and misunderstood by science and society.

She meets women with differing experiences of autism and hears from experts about how research into autism is mostly based on men and boys, meaning female behaviours can be misunderstood and often misdiagnosed.

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She then meets three doctors who are working to change the ‘gold standard’ test for autism, to make it better in spotting the subtle ways autistic women present.

They also discuss the vulnerabilities of autistic women, saying that nine out of 10 of them will have experienced sexual assault or rape at some point in their lives.