women on the spectrum
Updated: Jan 9
Diagnoses of Autism and Aspergers are significantly more prevalent in males than in females, current statistics show diagnosis rates of 3.25 boys to girls. Research also shows that females often get diagnosed later in life, which indicates that the condition is far more difficult to spot in females than in males and that many females may go through life without a diagnosis that could help them to understand theirselves better. Many women diagnosed later in life, report having a lightbulb moment upon their diagnosis, which allowed them to truly accept their unique and individual way of being and relating to the world.
So why are neurodiverse females not being recognised until later? There is evidence to suggest that the diagnostic criteria for Autism is biased towards male behaviour. However one of the main reasons that females are less likely to be sent for diagnosis is ‘masking’. Females are more adept at copying the behaviour of their neurotypical peers and masking the symptoms of their Autism in their desire to fit in. Gender culture historically taught women that they need to fit in and they should look to please others and this could be the reason for women masking. However this can lead them to feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion, leading to low self esteem and other mood disorders. Imagine having to consciously hide who you are just to try and exist in this world.
So let’s look at some of the common symptoms of Autism in adults.
• Sensory issues. Autistic peoples senses are often heightened and are often firing all at the same time. Light, sounds, touch, textures, smells, feelings. This means that busy environments can feel overwhelming.
• Eye Contact: Holding eye contact with people can also be overwhelming because of their sensory issues.
• Difficulty in reading facial expressions, body language and social cues. Where neurotypicals use all this extra language to decipher others, Autistic people are blind to such extra cues, so they are often classed as socially inept, rude or ignorant, leading to social isolation.
• Difficulty regulating emotion. With all this heightened sensory action going on, it’s no surprise that if you add emotion to that package and the way the body expresses it, that they struggle to deal with strong emotions and can often have meltdowns.
• Difficulty in maintaining the natural flow of a conversation. They are often prone to talk only about topics that they are interested in, or because they can’t read social cues or facial expressions and often interrupt people.
• Strict adherence to daily routines and to rules. This allows them to feel safe in a world that to them is loud, bright and exhausting to be in. Outbursts can occur when routines are interrupted, plans changed or someone is breaking the rules of the environment.
• Deep knowledge of an interest or topic. The neuroatypical brain is far more adept at focusing the autistic person on a particular subject, discounting others. It is no surprise that many autistic people can be found to perform outstandingly in fields like technology, science, history, music and art. Many young autistic people are often found to have a deep interest in gaming.
• Stimming. Self-stimulatory behaviour. Repetition of physical movements such as tapping, rocking, flapping hands, repetition of sounds, words or moving objects. This is like a sensory reward loop and done purely to enjoy the sensation of it, often used to calm down.
Research shows that the psychological and treatment benefits of a diagnosis often outweighs the disadvantages and many women diagnosed later in life often report that they believe an earlier diagnosis would have been beneficial. The general opinion of many medical professionals and the public is that Autism is a male condition and that also prevents women getting the help they need. Many female adolescents and adults are only being considered for a diagnosis after a bout of depression or burn out has led them to seek medical help, where they are lucky enough to encounter experienced professionals who can recognise the symptoms in females.
Women who have finally got a diagnosis and an explanation to years of feeling different, feeling lonely and having difficulty in relationships often report that they stop trying to mask their condition, leading to feelings of self acceptance, self confidence and efficacy. There are many people with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis who are thriving in the world, the climate activist Greta Thunberg is a current prominent example.
If you are a female - or a male, reading this and recognising these symptoms in yourself, talk to your GP or specialist organisation - such as the National Autistic Society (https://www.autism.org.uk) for further help and diagnosis advice
Lastly a quote from a famous autistic person - Dr Temple Grandin. ‘The most interesting people you’ll find are ones that don’t fit into your average cardboard box. They’ll make what they need, they’ll make their own boxes’