Summer Reads Series: Autism in Heels

Aaaah. . . summer! Oh, how I love summer and having the time to READ!! I hope you've been following along our Summer Reads Series for Teachers! This third book is Autism in Heels: The Untold Story of a Female Life on the Spectrum by Jennifer O'Toole.
Autism in Heels is not a novel like our other Summer Reads series books. It is a fascinating, heart-wrenching, eye-opening memoir written by a brilliant woman who after learning that her 3 children had Aspergers, began to do more research on autism and was herself, diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at the age of thirty-five. For the first time in her life, things made sense. Wow. Every teacher has probably had a male student with the label of Aspergers or autism, but it is very rare to have a female student with that same label. Why?

Autism spectrum disorders are currently more commonly diagnosed in males, with a ratio of about 1 female for every 4 males diagnosed. Because autism looks very different in females, most girls and women who fit the profile are not identified. One difficulty is that girls with autism seem to behave in ways that are often considered more socially acceptable for girls as opposed to boys.

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I had so many aha moments while reading this book. O'Toole shares example after example of how she managed to look like she was fitting in with the social norms, while feeling like she was an observer on the outside. She was a cheerleader, went to Brown University as an undergraduate, was in a sorority, and earned her Masters degree at Columbia University! She seemed like the model student, yet she was deeply insecure, depressed, insecure, and affected on the inside. As teachers, how observant are we? Or do students fall between the cracks because they appear to "fit in"?

In the past, autism spectrum inventories often asked questions that were gender-biased toward males:  "Does the child perseverate on specific interests such as trains or transportation, schedules or statistics?" "Does the child obsessively line up their cars and trucks?" As O'Cooke refers back to her childhood, she states that girls were often overlooked on these inventories because they usually do not have cars or trucks as toys to line up! However, she used to meticulously set up her Barbies in elaborate tableaus. While girls with autism do have specific interests they perseverate on, they are more likely to choose interests that appear more typical and socially acceptable: animals, music, pop stars. This was fascinating and I couldn't help but think back on so many female students who may have exhibited these Asperger traits, yet they were unidentified! Reading this memoir also made clear, the importance of allowing student choice in how to demonstrate their learning, and the power of student choice in choosing topics to study in-depth. Lacking a natural sense of social cues and not being able to "read people" are also good reasons to teach social-emotional health during morning meetings and throughout the year!

O'Toole's memoir is eye-opening; you won't want to put it down! You will think back on the hundreds of students who may have been in similar situations or who thought differently. She shares her own struggles with an eating disorder and abusive relationships, and how having Aspergers and interpreting the world differently was related to those areas.

She has written books for children, specifically for those with Aspergers; to help them navigate social circles and to teach them to embrace their unique traits!
I've compiled a list of Autism Resources with links for you. Download your copy of the list HERE.

You can listen to We Teach So Hard episode 45 Summer Read Series: Autism in Heels HERE or click on the image below! We discuss takeaways from the book, as well as how learning about gender differences in autism and Aspergers affect students in our classroom. You don't want to miss this episode!
If you haven't already checked out the first two books in our Summer Reads Series for Teachers, you MUST! Click on the images below to read more about each book and for a FREEBIE!
I hope you're loving these books as much as I did! What else are you reading this summer? I'm always looking to add to my TBR (to be read) list!


  1. Thanks for recommending such an intriguing read. This book was well worth the time.

  2. Summer is one of my favorite seasons. I love to get outside and enjoy the sunshine and this book would make my summer becomes more special. Happy summer amazon coupon code 20 off any item