How To Spot Autism In Women: Why Girls Go Undiagnosed Into Adulthood
When talking about autism and Aspergers in adult women, its a tale of the underdiagnosed. Many girls with autism tend to fly under the radar, developing an ability to mask their symptoms and imitate others in social situations but not without emotional and psychological consequences. Once grown, women with autism struggle under the weight and exhaustion from a lifetime of masking their autistic tendencies.
Women with autism and Aspergers also tend to suffer from mood disorders and other co-existing psychiatric disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder .
Anecdotal evidence points to an emerging profile of intelligent autistic women suffering in silence, struggling with a disorder they dont realize they have.
Autism In Women: Dispelling Myths
The medical establishment has been slow to develop an accurate profile of autism in women with low support needs.
Though our knowledge of autism, especially in women, is increasing, it has been slow to make its way into the mainstream. Its why common myths like the following persist, and why we must work to raise awareness:
1. Is ADHD on the autism spectrum? No. there is a clear distinction between the two. ADHD and autism are separate neurological differences that can both exist in the same person. Scientists have suggested that the two conditions have a biological connection, which causes a high rate of comorbidity.
2. Autistic people feel little or no empathy. This is categorically untrue. Some autistic people report feeling their emotions more intensely than most. This stereotype seems more connected to the social nuance used to convey emotion/empathy than to the actual experience of it.
3. You can immediately tell if someone is autistic. There is no way to know whether someone is autistic just by looking at or talking to them. Still, many people cant accept the fact that someone who isnt obviously disabled could be on the spectrum. In fact, I often hear people say to me, You dont look autistic!
Even though we have a long way to go toward neurodiversity empowerment, I encourage potentially autistic women to explore the possibility. As our ranks grow, perhaps the worlds understanding of us will grow as well.
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Women with autism often display very different symptoms than men with autism, which may lead to an incorrect diagnosis or failure to be referred for diagnosis.
Not only do many women with autism spectrum disorder act in a more socially neurotypical wayusually as a result of having put a considerable amount of effort into learning how to act sociallybut the focus of their attention is different to that of men with ASD.
Here are five signs of autism in women:
1. Intense focus on a person/band/celebrity
One of the criteria used for determining ASDfor instance, in Simon Baron-Cohens Aspergers Test1is an intense focus on things, which may be related to collecting and hobbies such as train spotting.
Women with ASD also display very intense interests but, whilst they may be focused on objects, their focus is just as likely to be on people. Girls growing up with ASD may become obsessed with a celebrity or band to the extent that they need to know every single fact about them. Many of my clients who are in relationships become so focused on their partner that they can lose sight of their own needs.
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Autistic Women And Girls
More men and boys are currently diagnosed as autistic than women and girls. This is changing slowly but surely, as more women and girls are being diagnosed as autistic.
Attitudes towards autism and gender are changing, although we still have a long way to go. Many autistic women and girls are still struggling to get the support they need.
Here, we explain more about the gender diagnosis gap, share stories from autistic women and girls, and share some theories on why more men and boys are being diagnosed as autistic.
You can also visit our gender identity page here, where we look at autism and gender identity in more detail.
Solitary And Dyadic Sexual Behaviors
As shown in Table III, no differences were found between the female participants in the frequency of masturbation . However, female HCs indicated more frequent sexual intercourse than the female ASD patients . The same pattern was found with regard to the question how often do you desire to have sexual intercourse, indicating that HC women had a greater desire for sexual intercourse than their ASD counterparts .
With regard to the masturbation frequency in men, male ASD participants reported more frequent masturbation than male HCs . In comparison of the frequency of sexual intercourse, an opposite pattern was found, with HCs reporting a higher frequency of sexual intercourse than ASD individuals. ASD men reported a greater sexual desire for sexual intercourse than their HC counterparts .
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Similar Test Results For Boys And Girls
To diagnose autism spectrum disorder , doctors and psychologists evaluate quantitative criteria using tests and questionnaires, but also qualitative criteria, like interests, stereotyped movements, difficulties with eye contact and language and isolation. But while autistic girls show similar test results to autistic boys, the clinical manifestation of their condition differs, at least in cases where language has been acquired.
With social-imitation strategies, for example, autistic girls have fewer troubles making friends than autistic boys they have seemingly more ordinary interests than boys while less restless than boys, they are more vulnerable to less-visible anxiety disorders, and more adept at camouflaging their stereotyped and soothing ritual behaviors. In other words, their autism is less obtrusive, which means their symptoms are less obvious to their families, teachers and doctors.
Biology and environment explain these differences, and in this case its impossible to separate nature from nurture. On the nature side of the argument, some hypothesise that girls are better equipped for social cognition and more apt at caring roles. This would explain why they appear to be more interested in the animate than the inanimate .
What Are The Symptoms Of Autism
Autism symptoms usually appear in early childhood, before the age of 2. For example, infants may not make eye contact. In some cases, they might show indifference toward their parents.
Around age 2, they may start to show signs of aggression, fail to respond to their name, or start taking steps backward in their language development.
Still, autism is a spectrum disorder, and not all autistic children display these symptoms. Generally, though, autism symptoms tend to involve problems with social interactions and behavioral patterns.
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Peer Support For Autistic Individuals
Peer support and advocacy are key for autistic individuals. Those looking to connect with organizations run by and for autistic people can refer to the Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network and the Asperger/Autism Network.
These organizations include information about getting diagnosed, treatment options, advocacy, and social support for autistic people and their loved ones.
Strong Dislike Of Change
Many people with high-functioning ASD have strong negative reactions to changes in their environment. They might become anxious if something new happens, even if it’s positive. They might also be unable to cope with sudden changes in plans or schedules. For example, if they are forced to choose a different brand than their usual cereal provider, they might become highly activated and irritated.
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Common Forms Of Camouflaging Include:
forcing yourself to make eye contact during conversations
preparing jokes or phrases ahead of time to use in conversation
mimicking the social behaviour of others
imitating expressions and gestures.
While both males and females with autism can camouflage their symptoms, it appears to be more common among women and girls. This could explain why women are less likely to be diagnosed with autism.
If You’re A Woman With Autism What Should You Look For In A Therapist
People often seek out therapy when they are having issues functioning in their daily lives or when they have mental health issues. Women with autism are no exception. We know that women with autism are more likely than other people to have mental health issues such as anxiety and depression1 and that many high functioning autistic women face difficulties in their day-to-day lives.
While therapy can be incredibly useful in helping women to lead fulfilled lives, some traditional forms of therapy can be more difficult for autistic women to engage in.
Some of the problems women may face when accessing non-specialised forms of therapy include:
1. Difficulties with the social aspects of therapy.
Because many women with autism have become so skilled at maskingincluding masking emotions such as distress and discomfortthey may find it very difficult to reveal what is happening during therapy and it can be difficult for a therapist to read their client. Clients may also find it hard to pick up on the social and communication cues their therapists are giving out, including non-verbal communication. This can cause issues with the therapeutic relationship, which is at the core of many approaches underlying psychotherapy.
2. Difficulty understanding and expressing emotions.
3. Looking for a problem in the wrong place.
4. Non-compliance with at-home tasks.
1. An understanding of the communication difficulties.
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Learning Accounting By Herself At Home
Sophies wish is granted: the interviewer asks her instead about her time at university. Relieved, she happily launches into an explanation of her masters thesis on meteorological modelling, but he cuts her off abruptly, clearly irritated. He wants to know why she is applying for a temporary job as an accounting assistant when she has no experience or training. Although her heart is racing wildly, Sophie manages to keep her composure, explaining that she taught herself accounting at home in the evenings. She describes the excellent MOOC she found on the website of the French Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, and tells him how one of the questions she asked the teacher on the forum led to a fascinating debate on the concept of depreciation expenses.
Sophie is not good at guessing what people are thinking, but she understands from the way the man is staring at her that he believes she is lying. Overwhelmed, she feels weaker by the minute. She watches his lips move but does not understand what hes saying. Ten minutes later shes in the street, with no memory of how the interview ended. She is shaking and holding back tears. She curses herself, wondering how anyone could be so stupid and pathetic.
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How Are Asd Levels Determined
While its difficult to determine a persons ASD level, trained psychologists have some tools that can help them accomplish this, such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition . This assessment is typically paired with a thorough developmental history.
Being diagnosed at a later age can make support more difficult. If you or your childs pediatrician think they may be autistic, consider making an appointment with an ASD specialist. Learn more about testing for ASD.
Autistic Girls Pass At Least For A While
Another reason girls may not be diagnosed is because theyre able to pass.
Girls tend to get by, Dr. Epstein says. They might not understand whats going on but theyll try to just go along and imitate what they see. And they may get away with it to third grade or fifth grade, but once they get to junior high and high school, it shows as a problem.
This has been the case for Lisa, now 13. Melissa says of her daughter, She is less mature than her typical peers, and girls are so intricate in how they behave socially. Its very difficult for her to maintain friendships because of this and, let me tell you, 13-year-old girls are not very accepting of someone different.
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Why Its Time To Be Honest About Autistic Women And Sex
Amy GravinoSpectrumAutism consultant
Listen to this story:
In 2006, I had sex for the first time, a moment 22 years in the making. I flung open my bedroom window shortly afterward, undeterred by the chilly February air, and shouted into the night: I am no longer a virgin. Do you hear that?
There were no headlines the next morning, much to my surprise. No newspapers proclaiming, BREAKING: Woman With Autism Has Sex. Ticker Tape Parade to Follow. I suddenly knew that what I had been led to believe was impossible was, in fact, absolutely possible: Autistic women can and do have sex.
And, as for neurotypical women, these sexual experiences can be great but they can also be painful.
In my case, my experience ended in pain and disappointment. A month before that winter night, I had told this man I loved him. I was certain he felt the same. But six months after that night, I was heartbroken to learn he had not loved me at all, and that he had had a girlfriend the entire time.
How had I missed this fact? Was it because I am autistic or because I was in love? And which one made me more vulnerable?
Im still not sure, because there is little information available about autistic women and sex.
But the study has some serious flaws in its assumptions and gaps in its reasoning. Many of its conclusions do not fully reflect my experience as an autistic woman.
Who Is This Quiz For
This brief, time-saving test is designed for anyone who thinks they might benefit from an autism screening or evaluation.
The items below will help you determine whether you may need an in-depth evaluation including screening tools, parental or family insight, and clinical observations.
A mental health professional can also help figure out if your symptoms might be a sign of another mental health condition and recommend treatment if needed.
This online screening is not a definitive tool. It will not conclusively guarantee that you have autism.
However, it will measure if you have any autism-related traits, based on your own self-assessment.
Only a trained medical professional, such as a doctor or mental health professional, can help you determine the next best steps for you.
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Adhd Vs Autism: Similarities And Differences
Autistic women and women with ADHD can share the following traits:
ADHD is diagnosed when a patient has symptoms of inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity. For an ASD diagnosis, however, the patient must have clinically significant difficulty with social interaction or communication, and unusually restricted or repetitive patterns of behavior or interests. In fact, many autistic people have a special interest a topic or subject that they are heavily invested in and are more knowledgeable about than most.
Autistic individuals are also more likely to have sensory processing disorder, discomfort making/maintaining eye contact, and hyper-logical methods of thinking, with a tendency to be extremely literal.
Resources For Autistic Children 4
For parents and professionals
Fun with Feelings a two book combination that teaches parents to help their autistic child to manage their anxiety and anger from a very young age to prevent mental health problems later in life.
Garnett, M. S., Attwood T., Ford, L., Runham S. and Cook J. . Having Fun with Feelings on the Autism Spectrum: A CBT Activity Book for Kids Age 4-8. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Garnett, M. S., Attwood T., Ford, L., Runham S. and Cook J. . Ten Steps to Reducing Your Childs Anxiety on the Autism Spectrum: The CBT-based Fun with Feelings Parent Manual. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
The online course for Fun with Feelings
During this 5.5 hour course Tony and Michelle describe how to use the Fun with Feelings course with your child for the best outcomes for your whole family.
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Signs Of Autism In Adults
The NHS lists some of the signs of autism in adults as follows:
- finding it hard to understand what others are thinking or feeling
- getting very anxious about social situations
- finding it hard to make friends or prefer to be on your own
- seeming blunt, rude or not interested in others without meaning to
- finding it hard to say how you feel
- taking things very literally for example, you may not understand sarcasm or phrases like break a leg
- having the same routine every day and getting very anxious if it changes
They recognize that autism can manifest differently in men and women, which in the case of women can be harder to determine if someone is autistic just by the criteria of autism itself.
Research has suggested that women tend to mimic peoples behaviors as a way of hiding their feelings and to cope with social situations.