5 July 2022

Celebrating Differences By Sonya Mallin

Nearly 11 years ago, when I had my twins Violet and Iris, we knew nothing about autism.

It was barely in the news and the stories were negative. They were never about girls, never mind twins.

Twins, Iris and Violet

Iris was diagnosed with ASD – autistic spectrum disorder – aged 10, in November last year. It was a lifechanging moment for both her and us.

Our twins were always very different, because they are two different people – something other people never seem to grasp and which I’m sure is familiar to many reading this article!

One daughter is very chatty and active, the other is more reserved and laid back. We always know what Iris is thinking whilst Violet likes to hold her thoughts and feelings closer to her heart.

Both girls met every early development milestone with Iris often getting there before Violet. She stood and walked before Violet. But by two years old, differences started to emerge.

Iris seemed to struggle with life in general and had “tantrums”. But to us, it didn’t feel like “naughty” behaviour – it felt more like a complete emotional breakdown. Violet would barely notice whatever was going on, but Iris would get distressed and often descend into tears.

Except they weren’t tantrums – they were autistic meltdowns – “an intense response to overwhelming circumstances and a complete loss of behavioural control”. When Iris is really anxious or overwhelmed, she struggles to express herself, which can lead to an involuntary coping mechanism: a meltdown.

But we didn’t know this at the time.

A few years went by and Iris was still struggling, while Violet took everything in her stride. And because Violet wasn’t struggling too, Iris became even more anxious, wondering why “life was so easy” for Violet and yet it felt so difficult for her.

Now we know that Iris is autistic, we can support her and each other better - and also support Violet

So, why didn’t we pick up on the autism sooner?

In part, because at the time there was little awareness of how it can present in girls and, because Iris was so capable of masking it.

Because Iris is a twin with a sister, she could imitate Violet, copy the way she acted, talked and played to hide and blend in. She was struggling to understand the world and why it felt so different to her, so she hid behind learned behaviour. And it’s this ability to blend in, pretend everything is ok, which is so damaging. It’s exhausting and can lead to burn-out, self-harm and misdiagnosed mental health problems. Like anxiety.

Teenage twins, Iris and Violet

While both Iris and Violet are bright girls and both continue to achieve great grades at school, Iris continued to struggle.

It’s a blessing and a curse being a twin with autism. Iris has wonderful support in Violet and they’re very close. But it also meant Iris’ struggles were hidden, making it difficult for us to see or understand what was happening.

Now we know that Iris is autistic, we can support her and each other better as a family – support for Iris as she finds her way through life, but also support for Violet, being the twin of someone with special educational needs and what that means for her too.

But ultimately, it’s a timely reminder that all twins (and triplets or more) are different people and their differences are something to be celebrated.


Masking is when an autistic person mimics other people in order to fit in and go unnoticed. It can start as early as six months old, with both girls and boys doing it.

What does it look like? 
Imitating peers by copyingthe way they walk, play or dress, like faking eye contact when talking to others, imitating smiling and mimicking gestures.
It can include developing a repertoire of rehearsed responses to questions.
Young people can take on the form of their favourite You-Tuber or book hero, becoming almost chameleonlike to blend into situations.

Why is it bad? 
Because it’s exhausting and the personcould experience burn-out,either in small ways (like a meltdown) or longer-term damage like self-harm.
Suppressing the natural state of being autistic can lead to loneliness, heightened anxiety, depression, angerand mental exhaustion.

Find out more about autism and masking.

Visit Twins Trust’s special needs peer-to-peer Facebook group.