Yellow Ladybugs is a non-government organisation with strong bridges to the community. We are dedicated to the happiness, success and celebration of autistic girls and women. We believe all autistic females deserve to be recognised, valued, accepted and supported in order to realise their full potential. We are committed to shining a light on autistic girls and women through the creation of positive and inclusive experiences for our members, and through advocating for the rights of all autistic females.
We believe in celebrating neurodiversity and learning from tribe elders. We use identity-first language (‘autistic’ rather than ‘has autism’) to respect our community’s preferences and because we believe that being autistic is not only an intrinsic part of our tribe’s identity, but something to be embraced and celebrated. We are actively seeking to reframe the conversation on autism, to remove the stigma, and to focus instead on acceptance.
We are an autistic-led organisation, which means the majority of our team members are autistic. We recognise that actually autistic individuals are the true experts on autism, and their lived experience is a critical factor in Yellow Ladybugs’ commitment to being an organisation that can support and advocate for its autistic members, whether they are children, teens or adults.
Yellow Ladybugs was borne out of a mother’s desire to throw a birthday party, not just for her own daughter, but for all the autistic girls who regularly miss out on party invitations. That mum was Katie, CEO of Yellow Ladybugs. Underpinning the birthday party idea, Katie had a larger vision to build a network of autistic girls, where they could find their tribe, connect with each other and share all the triumphs and challenges that come with being autistic. She also saw an opportunity to hold events that would be sensory-friendly, genuinely accommodating, and a place for autistic girls feel celebrated and included.
Twenty autistic girls attended that first birthday-party inspired Yellow Ladybugs event, held at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), Melbourne, on 30 August 2015. The girls enjoyed exclusive access to the gallery, where they explored, observed, ran, played and created. They went home with cupcakes and party bags, and most importantly with a sense of belonging. They walked into the event as girls with an autism diagnosis. They walked out as Yellow Ladybugs. This was just the beginning.
From this start, Yellow Ladybugs has continued to run monthly events for autistic girls in Melbourne, and in response to the incredible demand, has expanded to offer regular events in Ballarat, Canberra and Sydney.
Yellow Ladybugs has a strong advocacy mission, which begins with the recognition that autistic girls and women are often misdiagnosed, misunderstood or missed completely. We are committed to changing the common misperception that autism is primarily a male condition, and to removing the barriers that currently see so many autistic females struggling to access diagnosistic and support services.
Boys are currently almost four times more likely to receive an accurate autism diagnosis than girls. This ratio greatly underrepresents the number of autistic females in our society, with experts in female presentation suggesting the actual ratio is 2:1 and probably even higher. Girls are also typically diagnosed later. The average age for girls to be diagnosed is nine, with many girls not receiving a diagnosis until they are in their teens or adulthood. Boys on the other hand, are often diagnosed in early childhood, under the age of five.
The difference in diagnosis ratios has been attributed to several key factors:
These differences are now well supported by literature, research, professional observation and the lived experiences of many autistic girls and women. We know that autistic girls are often better at masking their difficulties in order to fit in with their peers, and can appear to have good social skills. Girls tend to have more cognitive resources to mask their autism, including good language and imitation skills, and a stronger ability to blend in socially with their male counterparts. Girls are often less noticeably different or disruptive than autistic boys. They often fly under the radar, and as a result of this, do not get the support they need.The lack of understanding that girls can be autistic, the dismissal of their struggles because they have may great verbal skills, are ‘too social’ or ‘make good eye contact’ or appear to be ‘just shy’, are all things that can have a lifelong negative impact. Conversely, when autistic girls and women have their neurology recognised, and their support needs are met, they can thrive and live to their full potential.
Yellow Ladybugs is committed to being part of the growing conversation around the specific challenges and support needs of autistic girls and women. We recognise that many autistic women have spent most of their life wearing a mask and that it can be difficult for them to be believed when they speak of their experience. As an autistic-led organisation, we are committed to listening to all autistic women and amplifying their voices. We are working to address the barriers faced by autistic females, including access to affordable diagnosis and support services, the lack of inclusion in schooling and employment, and the cultural and societal barriers to understanding that girls and women can be autistic too.
Yellow Ladybugs also actively celebrates the diversity within the female autistic community. We recognise that this community is as diverse as any grouping of humans – autistic women have a range of different views and lived experiences. Some have found their place in life, while others have struggled with a lifetime of exclusion and not fitting in. We take a respectful stance towards differing views, experiences and opinions, as these perspectives all serve to enrich our understanding of what it is to be autistic and female.
Our overarching objective is to shine a positive light on all autistic females, and to focus on constructive solutions to meeting the needs of the our community. We know that when autistic girls and women have their needs met, and are properly accommodated, they can thrive. We also know that when they find their tribe, autistic girls and women can start to feel connected and valued, which can make a profound difference to their sense of wellbeing. This is the society we strive for.