Signs of Autism in Women
If you're a female exploring the possibility that you might be on the autism spectrum, this article is for you. Autism, a neurodevelopmental condition characterised by differences in social interaction, communication, interests, and behaviors, is often underdiagnosed in girls and women. This is partly because traditional perceptions and studies of autism have been based largely on male presentations. However, autism manifests uniquely in each individual, and girls often exhibit different patterns.
It is important to note that autism can present differently in everyone, and there is no one set of characteristics that define an autistic individual. Everyone has unique experiences, challenges and strengths that they possess. In this article, we delve into some of the ways that experiences can commonly differ in girls. If you are concerned or are seeking a diagnosis, it is important to see a professional and research assessment or therapy options.
Recognising Autism in Females
Social Differences and Masking
Girls may develop more effective social coping strategies than boys. Many girls learn to 'mask' or hide their autistic traits to fit in socially. This might include mimicking others' social behaviors, forcing eye contact, or suppressing stimming (self-stimulatory behaviour). Girls may also exhibit higher emotional sensitivity and empathy compared to boys. Boys with autism, on the other hand, might show more obvious difficulties in social settings, like reduced interest in social interactions. They might struggle more with forming and maintaining friendships and are often more isolated.
Girls may interpret language very literally, missing out on sarcasm or implied meanings, and may also struggle with expressive language. Some girls are verbally fluent but may struggle with understanding the ebb and flow of conversation, such as when to speak or listen.
Interests and Behaviours
Females might have passionate and deep interests in specific topics, such as animals, literature or celebrities. These can often be less noticable, or stray less from the ‘norm’. Males might develop specific interests in mechanical systems or trains, which are somtimes considered more unusual.
Both boys and girls with autism can experience sensory sensitivities, but the types and intensities may differ. Girls might be more sensitive to sensory overloads in social settings, while boys might react more to specific sensory stimuli like loud noises or certain textures.
Girls on the autism spectrum are more likely to experience internalising disorders such as anxiety and depression. Boys might be more prone to externalising behaviors, such as hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
Why seek a diagnostic assessment?
The Power of Understanding
An assessment may be the first step towards understanding your unique brain wiring. An assessment can help you determine whether you are on the autism spectrum. A diagnosis may feel like a revelation that provides context to your experiences, behaviours, and interactions with the world. This newfound understanding can be liberating, and a relief if you have felt misunderstood your whole life. Many challenges you have faced throughout life, from social interactions to educational or workplace struggles, may suddenly make sense.
Tailored Support or Strategies
A diagnosis may provide access to tailored support at school or the workplace, and allow you to establish self-management practices, such as seeking resources and therapy. This support aims to help you thrive in environments you may have previously found challenging prior to a diagnosis.
If you think you might be autistic, know that seeking a diagnosis and embracing your neurodiversity can be a deeply affirming journey. Being autistic is a unique and integral part of who you are, and it comes with its own set of strengths and challenges. It can also be a challenging journey, so make sure to surround yourself with good people who understand your experiences and can support you throughout.