The signs of autism in women differ from that of men. This is one of the reasons of under reporting of autism in women. Testing and diagnosis protocols were originally set up to identify the symptoms of boys, so many girls and women can go under the radar for years until they get the help they need
What are the signs of autism in women?
Do you suspect your daughter could be autistic?
Perhaps you suspect you are on the spectrum?
Signs Of Autism In Women May Look Different To Signs of Autism In Boys
Often females go undiagnosed partly due to the fact medical professionals are not looking as much for autism or Aspergers in women as it typically has a much higher incidence in boys and men.
But partly, is it harder to spot the signs of autism in women as they become competent at camouflaging their symptoms and masking it from friends, family and especially health professionals if possible.
The ratio of boys to girls diagnosed with autism ranges from 2:1 to 6:1. Some variation in these statistics occur as there is not one simple test and some people use different criteria. There is also lack of reporting on the prevalence of autism across the board in many countries.
However it is certain that autism in women and girls remains under diagnosed and under reported.
For those on the spectrum who go undiagnosed, it means they may feel something is wrong with them, they do not fit in or that they do not know why nobody understands them.
Many women with autism report a huge relief when they are diagnosed as they now feel understood and that there was a reason for the social awkwardness or for looking at the world differently.
They also have access to whole host of support groups and services if they wish to get specific help. They are no longer alone but are now part of a supportive community.
What Are The Signs Of Autism In Women?
If you are a woman and have seen a health professional in a past, it is highly possible that your autism may have been missed.
There is not one tell tale sign, but a range of symptoms that will lead to such a diagnosis. If a few of these symptoms apply to you, or to your daughter, it would be a good idea to get a thorough assessment with a health professional or therapist.
For many women when they read about signs of autism in women, it immediately rings true and they know that it applies to them.
Signs and symptoms include:
- Stimming (overt self stimulating and self soothing/comforting) behaviours like foot tapping, hair stroking, head banging, pen tapping, rocking, spinning or using repetitive phrases over and over.
- Communication or social problems. If the issues have been severe, it is likely to have been picked up in childhood. However for some women, if their symptoms are less severe, they may be able to mask it for years.
- Sensory challenges- hypersensitivity to bright lights, loud noises or strong smells
- Allowing others to speak on their behalf- either friends or family members
- Obsessively talking about a topic of interest and going overboard- perhaps collecting posters, toys, trinkets relating to that topic. Ignoring other people’s conversation if it does not relate to this current passion
- Unusually moody or depressed
- Intermittent or continous OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder)
- Inability to read normal non verbal or verbal social cues. This makes it difficult to attain and retain friends
- Easily agitated and may have inappropriate melt-downs over seemingly minor events. This often causes difficulty at school and may lead to suspension or expulsion
- Epileptic seizures
Does Having One Or Two Of These Signs Mean I Have Autism?
Remember one or two of these symptoms is not enough to diagnose autism. Only if you see a several symptoms and a pattern of behaviour over a few years should you be concerned. Some kids or teens go through a “stage” – so if a behaviour is just occurring for a few weeks, this is not cause for concern either.
There may be something else going on that is temporary and will resolve, like a fight with her best friend causing stress or worry about an upcoming exam causing anxiety or something else.
How Are The Signs Of Autism In Women Different To That Of Men?
There are similarities between men and women when it comes to autistic behaviour and diagnosis. But there are significant differences too which may account for the mis-diagnosis and under reporting.
Boys tend to be more aggressive or misbehave and therefore get noticed earlier. Girls tend to withdraw and become shy and often do not get noticed. Girls and women are great at masking or camouflaging their symptoms to not draw attention to themselves.
Boys might tend to play by themselves.
Girls would stay close to other girls trying to be part of the group often pretending desperately to like the same groups, bands, music, tv shows that others do.
A woman with autism who appears withdrawn or quiet may be simply be seen as ladylike , feminine or shy. Whereas quiet, passive behaviour in a boy would be seen as unusual. Boys are expected to speak up, be rowdy and push and shove.
Standard tests for autism were designed for boys may miss diagnosis of girls with autism.
As girls grow to adult hood, there is even more pressure to fit in and disguise odd symptoms.
Many women report endlessly rehearsing for conversations they know might be coming up. They may script out answers to common questions in advance and pretend to like the same music, or movies as others.
They try to control their stimming to acceptable behaviours like foot tapping or doodling with a pencil or sitting on their hands
This constant pressure is exhausting and women with autism report being drained mentally and emotionally from keeping this up.
Many get depressed from exhaustion and feeling alone. They can go through life feeling like “no one understands me”. Many times a diagnosis is a major relief.
There is finally an explanation for the differences and validation that nothing “wrong “ with them, they just have a different neurology.
Once a diagnosis has been made, there are many support groups, therapy and services that become available. And many women can then enjoy a vastly improved life experience.