Why I'm proud to call myself an 'Aspergirl'

Courtney Weaver was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome when she was four. Now the self-described 'Aspergirl' is owning that identity.

For Courtney Weaver, it's about owning her diagnosis

Courtney Weaver calls herself an 'Aspergirl,' and says more people need to understand women have Asperger's syndrome, too. (John Weaver)

When I was four years old, I didn't like noise, or to be touched. I was withdrawn and did not make eye contact.

My sister, then two and a half, was also not making eye contact or understanding basic concepts. Our parents took us in for an assessment and evaluation, and that's when we learned I had Asperger's.

Asperger's syndrome is one of several autism spectrum disorder labels that impact a person's levels of social and communication abilities. Asperger's is on the milder end of this spectrum. It means the person has no significant delays in language or cognitive development, but they do have social communication difficulties such as robotic speech, focusing only on certain topics of interest and difficulty understanding non-verbal communication.

It's about accepting that my life trajectory has been different than what others have expected of me and choosing a label that both acknowledges my diagnosis and sounds like being me is cool, not a deficit.

Despite the cost of therapy, and the resulting personal stress, my parents found a variety of treatments to help my sister and me. But that didn't mean I had an easy life. My social naiveté would get me in trouble, especially in high school.

For example, in Grade 12, a boy sitting at the desk behind me whom I barely knew flipped the hood of my sweater over my head. I angrily turned around and yelled, "Geez, what was that for?" I'd been taught in therapy to keep your hands to yourself. But I'd never learned about examples of nice teasing. 

Learning this from Mom afterwards, I felt so guilty. But I also knew that if I tried to explain Asperger's to the boy, he would likely say, "What is this girl talking about?" — if not worse. This cycle of guilt and frustration would persist.

Courtney Weaver struggled with some of the social aspects of high school, like going to prom. She's pictured here before the big night, flanked by her sisters, Ashley and Serena. (Rebecca Weaver)

Despite these social challenges, I was able to pursue my studies. At university, I did a Master's in critical disability studies at York University. In the process, I got to think about disability and how it fits into who I am.

That's when I decided to self-identify as an Aspergirl. For me, it's about owning it, accepting that my life trajectory has been different than what others have expected of me, and choosing a label that both acknowledges my diagnosis and sounds like being me is cool, not a deficit.

Asperger's didn't stop Courtney Weaver from graduating from York University with a Master's in critical disability studies. (Submitted by Courtney Weaver)

You might have noticed an upsurge in TV shows and movies that star a character with autism. Think of Atypical and The Good Doctor. It's making more people hear and talk about autism.

But those shows feature predominantly male characters with autism. And while it's true that autism diagnoses are four to five times higher in boys than in girls, I believe more people need to understand and see how autism affects women and girls instead of just men and boys.

Freddie Highmore plays the role of an autistic surgical resident on the TV show The Good Doctor. (The Associated Press)

Since graduating, I've found work that is mostly in disability issues and autism. In the process, I believe that I've helped my colleagues learn about what it means to work with someone on the autism spectrum. I've also been sharing my story through public speaking.

Courtney Weaver spoke at the 2017 Autism on the Hill event. (Ryan Parent)

There are times when I just want to blend in and take advantage of the fact that you can't see that I have Asperger's. But I am also a proud, advocating Aspergirl.

Courtney Weaver currently works four part-time jobs, most of which have to do with autism and disability issues: office assistant at MP Mike Lake's office, admin assistant at Spectrum Intervention Group, research and development assistant at Carleton University and Loblaws cashier. Courtney is the oldest of three sisters, has a mom and dad and is all about maintaining a balance between staying in and getting out of her comfort zone.