AN OXFORDSHIRE politician has shared the journey which led her to be diagnosed with Autism as an adult.

Alexandrine Kantor, 33, who represents Wheatley on South Oxfordshire District Council, was diagnosed with autism only earlier this year.

Many Autism diagnoses are made in childhood, but it is becoming increasingly common for them to be made in adulthood.

Ms Kantor, who was brought up in France, said the diagnosis came after she began to research the ways the condition manifests in women differently to men.

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While she said it led her to ‘grieve’ because she knew she would never be able to fit in with what other people thought of as normal, it has also led her to understand her past thoughts and actions.

Now she wants to use her public facing role as a local councillor living with Autism to raise awareness of the condition, and the different ways people experience it.

The Liberal Democrat councillor said: “Representation matters: Autism is consistently mis-portrayed in media.”

Ms Kantor, who in her day job is an engineer at Culham Science Park, said she felt that the ‘Hollywood’ portrayal of Autism often relied on tropes about the most severe version of the condition, and often the way that it is experienced by men.

She said: “We are not all geniuses. I am certainly not a genius: my best ability is to watch Netflix.

“I think it is important for people not to have a complex if they are not as the media portrays.”

She added she thought there was bias in medical diagnoses of the condition, citing that it was often based on how men presented with Autism.

She said: “The cliché about classical autistic kids not wanting to speak or communicate, that is a male version of the condition. Women are often very social.”

The National Autistic Society describes Autism as ‘a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world’.

The NAS acknowledges that women are often less likely to be diagnosed with Autism from an early age than men are.

It gives several theories for why this could be the case, one of which is that Autism might be more prevalent in men due to biological factors.

But others include that ‘Autistic females have characteristics which don’t fit with the profile’ and that they may also be better at hiding the symptoms, also known as ‘masking’.

From an early age, Ms Kantor said she had difficulty communicating with other children, but could not understand why.

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She said: “In my personal experience I always knew something was different, something was off. I always wanted to have friends, but it never worked out.

“I was others with friends and did not know what to do.

“I imitated a lot of things I saw in others as I thought if it worked for them it would work for me.”

As a teenager, she remembers being depressed because of the awkward way in which some of her attempts at friendship played out.

She also remembers being called unfocussed by her parents because of the ways in which she communicated, and also telling inappropriate jokes to a boss while she was undertaking work experience as a young adult.

Herald Series:

The Autism Alert Card that Alexandrine Kantor carries

The councillor said: “I didn’t understand why he could do it to me, but I could not do it back.

“But actually we know now it was autistic traits,” she said.

Earlier this year, the councillor discovered a website which changed how she thought about herself.

She said: “It was about the specifics of girls with autism. When I read that, it was like it was describing my life and I thought I might be autistic actually.”

She self-referred via a voluntary service, the Oxfordshire Adult Autism Diagnosis Service and Support, and took a test.

Ms Kantor did not expect a swift reply, with the service saying it could take up to a year to process her referral.

But after a series of meetings, the OAADSS found she did have a form of Autism.

While this helped her, Ms Kantor also said it was difficult to come to terms with at first.

She said: “I tried all my life to be normal in a way that never worked. The diagnosis made me think that this would never happen.

“I grieved about that. I thought about all the wasted energy trying to be something I would never be.“I felt a bit depressed for a few weeks thinking I would never fit in. We have to come to terms with that but the diagnosis explains why I felt that way.”

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Since received the formal diagnosis, the councillor has been able to access support, including meet ups with other Autistic people and with professionals, currently carried out remotely because of the pandemic.

This includes helping to deal with issues around sensitivity which some Autistic people have: some become overly stimulated by certain sounds, touch or other sensations, while others do not.

For Ms Kantor, for example, a trip to the supermarket can sometimes be tiring due to the noise.

Having been diagnosed with the condition, she now wants to use her position as a councillor to raise awareness of Autism.

She is also keen to promote the idea of neurodiversity, or neurodivergence: a way of talking about people with conditions like Autism or ADHD which considers them equal, instead of not being ‘normal’.

She said: “Many people are neurodivergent so I think it is good to have someone like them in power.”

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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