What Causes Autism In Women
Experts arent sure what causes autism. Given the wide range of symptoms and severity, autism is likely caused by several factors, including genetics and environmental factors.
While theres no evidence that the exact cause of autism is different between the sexes, some experts suggest that boys are at a higher chance of developing it.
For example, investigators believe that girls might be born with genetic protective factors that reduce their chance of autism.
Theres also an emerging theory called the extreme male brain theory. Its based on the idea that fetal exposure to high levels of male hormones in the uterus might affect brain development.
As a result, a childs mind might focus more on understanding and categorizing objects, traits that are generally associated with the male brain. This is in contrast to empathizing and socializing, which are more often associated with female brains.
The effect of hormones on brain development isnt well known yet, giving this theory some major limitations. Still, its a start toward understanding how autism develops and why it appears more in boys than girls.
Symptoms In Children And Teenagers
The symptoms of ADHD in children and teenagers are well defined, and theyre usually noticeable before the age of 6. They occur in more than 1 situation, such as at home and at school.
Children may have symptoms of both inattentiveness and hyperactivity and impulsiveness, or they may have symptoms of just 1 of these types of behaviour.
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How Do Gender Norms And Stereotypes Play A Role
In media, portrayals of male characters with ADHD-associated traits are frequently viewed positively . Negative traits of ADHD, such as disorganization, tend to be looked on more judgmentally in women and more easily “forgiven” in men.
Many girls and women with ADHD try hard to suppress behaviors that may be counter to the norms of feminine behavior, such as hyperactivity, impulsiveness, disruptive behavior, and disorganization, for fear of judgment.
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How To Get Diagnosed With Adhd And Asd As An Adult Woman
Obtaining a diagnosis proved difficult but Erin persevered, despite being told by one counsellor that ADHD is a little boys condition.
She now encourages other women to come prepared when requesting a referral from their GP she completed a symptom checker on Additude Mag, and requested an assessment from Psych-UK using their Right to Choose instructions online. Erin ensured she brought the results along to her appointments to back up her own research.
Post-diagnosis, Erin said she felt relief and clarity on a lot of the unexplained hurdles she faced throughout her life. But this realisation followed a period of grieving.
Undiagnosed women experience years of uncertainty and confusion. Erin grieved for a life unlived, missed opportunities, and the pain she caused others through lack of awareness and understanding of consequences.
Like many other women, Erin was labelled stupid, lazy, and ditzy enough times that she internalised this criticism, and sadly grew up believing her neurodiverse symptoms were character flaws.
Perception Of Symptom Presentation In Women And Girls With Adhd By Knowledgeable Informants
Knowledgeable informants may be more likely to overlook ADHD symptoms in women and girls and are therefore less likely to refer them for diagnosis or treatment. A study published in 2009 explored the reasons for this gender gap in referrals for treatment by teachers of girls.12 In this study, parents and teachers read a series of vignettes that differed only in whether the name of a boy or girl was used. Both parents and teachers indicated that they were less likely to seek or recommend ADHD services when the vignette used a girls name.12 Another study reported that symptom severity had the greatest influence on referral for treatment for teachers,11 but that despite teachers viewing girls with ADHD as significantly more impaired than boys with ADHD, medication was considered as a treatment strategy less often for girls.11
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Autism And Adhd In Girls
Its a popular belief that autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are boy problems. But recent research suggests that both conditions are as likely to affect girls as boys, despite the fact that boys are far more likely to be diagnosed, and at a younger age.
Boys are diagnosed with ADHD at a ratio of four to every one girl, but this tends to be because the condition presents differently in girls, and is more likely to be overlooked, explains Dr Tony Lloyd, chief executive officer of the ADHD Foundation.
And the statistics for autism diagnosis are similar, with just one-fifth of girls with Asperger syndrome receiving a diagnosis by the age of 11, compared to 50 per cent of boys with the same condition.
The Symptoms Of Autism In Girls
Autistic girls are are fascinating subject. Currently, autism is diagnosed in boys in a ratio of anywhere between 16 to 1 and 68 to 1. But, as the linked resource suggests, this ratio is far more likely to be 3 to 1 or 2 to 1 once gender differences are accounted for.
This means that for every girl diagnosed with autism, there are anywhere between 15 and 67 undiagnosed autistic girls out there who have to learn how to deal with their symptoms on their own.
You can read more about the symptoms of autism in girls here.
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Actions Not Labels Matter Most
Whatever we call their challenges, children with an autism spectrum disorder do not intuitively understand the social world. Severely affected children have little apparent interest in other people. Those with mild impairment may be somewhat motivated socially, but lack skills to initiate or maintain conversation and play with peers. These children require prolonged support to thrive.
Having one term to describe all kinds of autism is a big step toward recognizing each childs individual strengths, and focusing attention on the kind of care that is most needed. Changing the debate about individual labels allows parents and providers to focus on the services needed by each child.
Our Perspective: Own It
We believe ADHD does not make us flawed or broken. We are unique and our differences can be a source of compassion and power. We encourage those with ADHD to get connected with the support they need, learn about ADHD, and build on their strengths so they can show up as their best selves, and thrive at work and in life.
ADHD is real and has its challenges, and there are also many reasons to be proud. Here are a few: 25 Things to Love About ADHD.
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Understanding Autism In Women
Autism is rarer in females than in males. In fact, one major researcher in the field, Simon Baron-Cohen, wrote that autism is a manifestation of the extreme male brain.
There does seem to be a real difference in the number of females who are actually diagnosed with autism versus the number of males. But this so-called “female protective effect” is still being explored.
In recent years, it has become clear that autism is underdiagnosed in females. There are a number of reasons for this:
- Girls are more likely to internalize anxiety related to autism instead of behaving aggressively, they are more likely to become depressed or anti-social.
- Most cultures make it acceptable for girls to be “shy” whereas shyness is less acceptable in boys.
- When girls with autism focus exclusively on a particular interest, they are more likely than boys to choose a socially acceptable fascination such as unicorns or dolls.
Because fewer females have autism, fewer females with autism have been included in studies. More attention is now being paid to how autism manifests in females.
Types Of Adhd And Symptoms In Women
The CDC estimates 8 million adults display the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder , which includes a complex grouping of symptoms that impact women and men differently.
Kathleen Nadeau, PhD, director at Chesapeake Psychological Services of Maryland in Silver Spring specializes in treating women and girls. Nadeau says the single most common word women use to describe their symptoms when they see her is a pervasive sense of overwhelmone that evades all kinds of remedies and persists for months or years.
The latest diagnostic manuals include : inattentive hyperactive/ impulsive, or a third combined group. ADHD is far from a monolith. It is a complex neurological condition, says Dr. Hallowell, co-author of ADHD 2.0, a book written for both clinicians and people with ADHD to better understand the most recent brain science and how it can positively and negatively affect peoples lives.
ADHD is divided into three types with the following diagnostic criteria:
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An Asd And Adhd Diagnosis At 39
I spoke to Erin, a Business Change Specialist at Matalan, to find out about her diagnosis experience.
Erin was diagnosed with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder aged 39. She is a confident, valued member of the team at Matalan, but her success did not come without challenges.
Like many undiagnosed women, Erin grew up feeling different. She did not seem to fit in, and couldnt understand societal rules that everyone else just naturally knew. It puzzled Erins teachers when she struggled with her schoolwork, and she regularly received the same criticism: Erin is bright, she just needs to apply herself.
Neurodivergent conditions can present differently in women. In boys, hyperactivity, disruptiveness and fidgeting have become well-known stereotypical characteristics of ADHD, but women are more likely to internalise their symptoms.
Erin noticed a pattern when looking through her school reports:
- Could be successful, if only she would apply herself
- Needs to come out of herself.
Autism In Women: Diagnostic Considerations
If you are seeking a diagnosis, prepare yourself to face skepticism possibly even from your clinician. Unfortunately, anyone without a nuanced understanding of the spectrum may be doubtful of a seemingly normal adult female requesting an evaluation.
Thats why it is essential to work with clinicians who have experience diagnosing autism in adults. It is especially helpful if they have knowledge of any existing diagnoses, like ADHD, and have previously evaluated or counseled other women. While the research on autism in women is sparse, first-hand experience can equip these clinicians to accurately assess the possibility of autism.
The good news is that experienced, knowledgeable psychologists and psychiatrists do exist, and one of those individuals will take your concerns and questions seriously. The clinician will likely evaluate you using a combination of diagnostic surveys and interviews with you and someone who knew you as a child. Generally, this is a parent, but it could be any person who observed you consistently before age four or five. After your doctor gathers this information, it will inform your diagnosis.
You can decide to be evaluated at any point in your life. Receiving my diagnosis, at age 19, improved my relationships with family and friends. I didnt become a different person, but afterward I could articulate my ways of thinking and perception.
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Trying to hide their issues can be hard work, which can have an impact on girls emotional and mental wellbeing. Whereas boys may be picked up on because of an obvious learning delay or social impairment, or behavioural problems such as outbursts of anger, for girls, the indicators tend to be around anxiety and frustration, which can lead to problems such as depression, eating disorders and self-harm, Carol explains.
Girls with autism are also more susceptible to friendship issues. They often play differently, trying to control the game rather than being inclusive, Carol says. They may latch on to the most popular girl and try to copy the way she looks, dresses and acts as a way of fitting in, and are also vulnerable to manipulation and emotional abuse from friends, for example, by being dared to misbehave.
The differences in the way in which autism and ADHD present between the sexes is suspected to be due to their brain function. Girls tend to be ahead of boys in their emotional development, which can make them better at hiding the signs, Tony says. Boys also have more testosterone, so their frustration is expressed in physical actions, whereas girls internalise it, which can lead to anxiety.
Why Are More Males Than Females Diagnosed With Adhd And Asd
The explanation for this gap may be narrowed down to several factors.
Firstly, the world is simply designed for men from the seatbelts we rely on, to the size of our mobile phones. Equipment and diagnostic tools have historically been designed and measured with men in mind.
Even now, research suggests the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual continues to have a gender bias .
For every woman diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder , roughly 3 to 6 men are diagnosed . It is also estimated that the most common age for women to be diagnosed with ADHD is late 30s to early 40s, compared to aged 7 for boys.
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How Adhd Symptoms Differ In Women
Inattentive ADHD is most common in women. Clinicians look for symptoms that not only persist for long periods of time but are severely disruptive at work or at home. So, for example, while the average person under stress might forget where they put their car keys or an Internet password, a female ADHD-er will forgetbut not recognize this as a pattern that is as disruptive as it is avoidable.
Hormonal systems in females make the experience of ADHD distinctive from that of males and are another factor complicating diagnosis. The role that hormones play is underestimated during crucial timespuberty, early adulthood, childbirth, and as well as later, during perimenopause and menopause, and can make ADHD feel like a rollercoaster.Female hormone fluctuations and transitional periods of life such as puberty or pregnancy seem to intensify the symptoms of ADHD in women, Nadeau says.
Internalizing painful emotions and experiences causes anxiety of course and makes ADHD women prone to self-injury and suicide. It is common to hear these admissions online and in support groups say the founders of The Anxiety Sisters, an online community whose tagline is Dont go it alone.
Since she began writing about women and ADHD some decades ago things have changed dramatically. I remember being teased at conferences by men who said women didnt have ADHD. We just wanted to be a part of their club.
How Are They Different
Keep an eye on how your child pays attention. Children with autism struggle to focus on things that they don’t like, such as reading a book or doing a puzzle. And they may fixate on things that they do like, such as playing with a particular toy.
Kids with ADHD often dislike and avoid things they’ll have to concentrate on.
You should also study how your child is learning to communicate. Although kids with either condition may struggle to interact with other people, those with autism can have less social awareness of others around them. They often have a hard time putting words to their thoughts and feelings. And they may not be able to point to an object to give meaning to their speech. They find it hard to make eye contact.
A child with ADHD, on the other hand, may talk nonstop. They’re more likely to interrupt when someone else is speaking or butt in and try to monopolize a conversation. Also, consider the subject. Some kids with autism can talk for hours about a topic that they’re interested in.
A child with autism usually loves order and repetition. But a kid with ADHD might not, even if it helps them.
A child with autism might want the same type of food at a favorite restaurant, for instance, or become overly attached to one toy or shirt. They can become upset when routines change.
A child with ADHD doesn’t like doing the same thing again or for long times.
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The Burst On Social Media
You only have to visit TikTok and Instagram and release that thousands of older women are only now feeling comfortable in exploring their neurodiversity. This is partly due to those public figures like Em and Clementine speaking openly about their diagnosis and candidly speaking about their struggles as an undiagnosed ADHER or autistic. This can only be a good thing.
How Is Autism In Women Treated
While theres no cure for autism, medications can help to manage certain related symptoms or disorders that may co-occur.
But medication is only one aspect of autism support. There are many types of physical, occupational, and talk therapies that can help you better interact with the world around you and manage your symptoms.
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Working With Your Childs School
With autism and ADHD less commonly recognised in girls, teachers may try to apply their knowledge of how the conditions present and are managed in boys to your daughter, which may not be helpful. They need to recognise that every child is individual, and respond to those girls learning styles, whether theyre visual learners or perform better when theyre doing something, says Carol. Utilising their interests is also important, rather than trying to suppress them: if, for example, a girl is hyper-focused on animals, teachers can use that interest to open up the world to them.
Teachers also need to be aware of the emotional strain that ADHD or autism put on girls, for instance by making sure they have a safe place to go if they are struggling, or a trusted adult who they can speak to. Being aware of friendship issues and the potential for bullying is essential, as well as providing practical resources such as visual timetables for helping them negotiate the school day.
Above all, its important to develop a close relationship with your childs teacher and the special educational needs coordinator . You know your child best, so good links with the school are essential, Carol adds. You need to be your childs champion, and the bridge between her and a neurotypical world that she may struggle to make sense of.