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Is There Such a Thing as ‘Female Autism’?

January 15, 2024

Since autism is a spectrum disorder, it can be difficult to pinpoint specifics when it comes to differences among people. But is there a difference between male and female autism? 

To specify gender differences when talking about autism can be difficult because they can exist outside the context of gender alone. Since people are so different, classifications and assessments can also vary.

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What Are the Signs of Autism in Girls – Is Asperger’s in Girls Overlooked?

Is Diagnosis Different for Autistic Females?

When it comes to diagnosing autism, there are more males diagnosed each year than women and girls. This can cause parents and practitioners to question why such a difference occurs.

Some doctors think that since women and girls can mask certain autistic traits, like making eye contact and talking to others, diagnosis can be difficult. For this reason, parents and teachers can find it difficult to recognize various autistic behaviors that could be considered typical.

When it comes to autism diagnosis, there are doctors, such as clinical neuropsychologist Susan Epstein, PhD, who would consider that there are challenges with the original diagnostic criteria. She stated that the original model is based on more male-dominated traits.

She also states that, although some women and girls are diagnosed through the classic method, there are still quite a few that remain undiagnosed.

Since women present differently than men, this model being used to diagnose autism can have problems properly diagnosing those who don’t fit into it.

A woman in therapy
https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/female-autism/

Is There an Easier Way to Spot and Manage Female Autism?

Due to some of the difficulties that can be faced, some autistic women and girls go undiagnosed or are diagnosed with some other mental disorders.

Some of the difficulties in spotting and diagnosing women and girls are because of masking autism traits and behaviors that are considered typical.  This could include females not having the same social and sensory difficulties.

There are autistic women and girls whose stimming is twirling their hair instead of lining up toys such as cars and robots. Some love reading, so they read all the time instead of discussing the intricacies between a tyrannosaurus rex and an allosaurus.

They are still experiencing the same level and intensity of restricted interests, but because it is in books, they are just considered bookworms.

Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder based solely on the signs of autism found predominantly in males means that more females go unnoticed.

For autistic people to obtain the necessary support and services, they need to find the right doctors to listen to their questions and concerns, considering those points during their autism evaluation.

What Can Be Done?

Although there are constantly new discoveries in the autism field, there is still a long way to go in accurately diagnosing and understanding autism and other mental health conditions.

Since there are so many traits and signs of autism among each individual, there can be many different ways to diagnose and misdiagnose a person.


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Some mental health issues have been studied and understood for a long time. The formal diagnosis process is well understood and established for many people.

Since everyone is so unique, and autism can have varying symptoms and behaviors for each person, it can be difficult.

Some considerations can be considered, such as:

  • differences in social interactions
  • how repetitive behaviors present differently in female autism
  • the sensory differences of each individual
  • how emotional regulation can look different for females
  • different forms of self-harming behavior, such as eating disorders
  • the ability to understand body language and other social cues

Those are just a few ways female autism can present differently. More information needs to be gathered and considered to improve the typical method of diagnosing autism.

FAQs

Q: What are the signs of autism in female adults?

A: Signs of autism in female adults may include difficulties with social communication, preference to being alone, repetitive behaviors, intense interests in specific topics, sensory sensitivities, and challenges in understanding non-verbal cues. 

Q: How to diagnose autism in female adults?

A: Diagnosing autism in female adults involves a comprehensive assessment by a qualified professional. It’s crucial to recognize that autism may present differently in females, with subtler symptoms that may require careful observation.

Q: How common is autism in women?

A: Autism is generally diagnosed more frequently in males than females, with estimates suggesting a male-to-female ratio of around 4:1. However, there is a growing awareness that autism may be underdiagnosed in females due to differences in how symptoms manifest.

Q: What are some famous females with autism?

A: Some well-known females who have publicly shared their experiences with autism include Temple Grandin, an accomplished scientist and author; Susan Boyle, the Scottish singer; and Daryl Hannah, the actress.

References

Arky, B. (2023). Why Many Autistic Girls are Overlooked.
https://childmind.org/article/autistic-girls-overlooked-undiagnosed-autism/

National Autistic Society. (2023). Autistic Women and Girls.
https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/what-is-autism/autistic-women-and-girls

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