Autism Women & Non Binary Network of Edmonton (AWNNE)

The Cause

AWNNE (Autism Women and Non-Binary Network of Edmonton) is an exciting new group of women and non-binary individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) looking to make a difference in the lives of autistic women in the workplace. Phase I of AWNNE began when the Centre for Autism Services Alberta (CFASA) established the group of women and non-binary individuals with ASD and completed facilitated conversations about the employment experiences they've had. Current statistics state that autism is diagnosed at a rate of 5 males to 1 female, but emerging research shows that females are likely being underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed. The experience of autistic women and girls is still misunderstood by the general public. According to Dr. Judith Gould from the National Autistic Society (UK) symptoms often overlooked as being “typical female characteristics” include shyness, oversensitivity and difficulty socializing, however, if presented in a male, these symptoms would result in support and coping strategies to mitigate the resulting social awkwardness. Women and girls are expected to blend in, or even mask their symptoms. Through these facilitated conversations, AWNNE explored how ASD manifests itself and is experienced by women in Edmonton, in employment settings and how those experiences may differ from those of men. The initial Phase I goal of the group was to learn from their experiences and inform changes in the workplace for women and non-binary individuals on the spectrum.

Based on the success of Phase I, which occurred over the course of several months in 2019 and early 2020, and the group’s inherent desire to continue and expand, CFASA is now looking towards Phase II to create an online community of self-advocates. Phase II will concentrate on building the community by developing a wider platform for connection and conversation through expanded membership and website development. By supporting women and non-binary individuals through an online platform with tools and resources designed by the individuals themselves, AWNNE can empower individuals with ASD to pursue employment and leadership opportunities. It is here that they can help shape and create programming that recognizes their unique symptomology and give autistic women in Edmonton a voice within their community. This project seeks to develop a collective voice for women and non-binary persons with ASD where none currently exists.

Who Will it Benefit?

There are no peer support groups dedicated to women with ASD in Edmonton, in particular, none that focus on empowerment, employment and self advocacy. AWNNE is uniquely designed for women on the spectrum by women on the spectrum. While the ultimate goal will be to reach every woman and non-binary individual with autism in Alberta (and later, nationwide), we know that may be a lofty goal for AWNNE’s Phase II. Through moderate growth of the initial core group of participants, we aim to create resources that resonate with members and support active engagement in the labour market for this group, resulting in greater personal success. Within Phase II we aim to recruit more self-advocates through awareness activities.
Recent research indicates that there is an extremely limited knowledge of autism from the adult female perspective. We are responding to this need to better support and empower this group, specifically focusing on employment experiences for women with ASD in Alberta. The AWNNE group gives female and non-binary self-advocates the opportunity to develop their own platform for conversation that we hope will continue to grow across the country. By providing the opportunity for women to explain what is needed and then create those tools and resources, we are confident in the ability to support more women with ASD become self-advocates.

When a Phase I member indicated they “had found the Mothership”, we knew CFASA was addressing an unmet need in the community. By moving our current AWNNE group to the next phase, we are providing tangible tools and resources for autistic women’s voices to be heard, and will benefit women beyond the geographical sphere of Edmonton. It is important for women to have the access to support from their peers, who understand the profoundly different way they experience the world and their common struggle to conform to social expectations.