Autism in Women: 26 Things to Know

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Autism in Women: 26 Things to Know | Autism in women and girls is often misdiagnosed or overlooked because they present differently than men with autism. Females are more likely to camouflage their behaviours, which means they can go their entire lives without a diagnosis, leading to troubles with self-esteem, self-confidence, etc. It’s so important to understand what autism looks like in women to ensure proper support and accommodations -- click for everything you need to know.

Autism in women and girls is often misdiagnosed or overlooked because they present differently than men and boys with autism and are more likely to camouflage their behaviours. They could go their entire lives without being diagnosed and thinking something is wrong with them because they communicate or behave differently than others around them. This is why it’s so important to understand what autism looks like in women and how this is different from what it looks like in men. Here are 26 things to know about autism in women.

What Is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. It can cause significant social, communication, and behavioural differences in people who have it. ASD begins before the age of three and can last throughout a person’s life, although symptoms may improve over time. Some people with autism have a known difference, such as a genetic condition, while other causes are not yet known.

Autism is known as a “spectrum” disorder because the abilities of people with autism can vary significantly. While some have advanced conversation skills, others are non-verbal. While some people with ASD can live with little to no support, others need help in their day-to-day lives.

How Is Autism Different in Females vs Males?

Male and female autism show some similarities, but women with autism tend to present differently than men. This often leads to misdiagnosis and under-diagnosis in women. Females with autism tend to have a greater desire to be sociable and are expected to perform more in gender roles.

They tend to mask (or camouflage) their symptoms more than males in order to pass as “normal”. They’ll use techniques such as developing a script for conversation, forcing themselves to make eye contact, or avoiding talking about topics that interest them. They’ll also mimic the behaviours of others in order to fit in.

Another way in which females and males with autism differ is in their interests. Boys with autism are typically very interested in collecting items and gathering information about objects. This tends to fit into how we typically think about autism. Girls with autism are often interested in similar things to other girls of their age such as celebrities, bands, or makeup. Sometimes this grows to the point of an obsession.

Due to differences in how they present, many females are often diagnosed late, go undiagnosed, or are given other diagnoses such as ADHD or OCD. This can cause a lot of frustration and overwhelm until she is properly diagnosed.

Autism in Women: 14 Signs and Symptoms

  1. Social difficulties
  2. Sensory sensitivity/overwhelm
  3. Finding it hard to organize yourself, finish tasks, and maintain emotional control
  4. Obsessive interests
  5. Camouflaging (spending considerable time and energy masking your differences in order to pass as “normal”)
  6. Sleep issues
  7. Difficulties with eye contact
  8. Social withdrawal
  9. Emotional regulation issues and meltdowns
  10. Stimming (self-stimulating behaviour) or repetitive behaviours, such as skin picking, feet rubbing, pacing, or hair twirling
  11. Anxiety and depression
  12. Special interests
  13. Increased empathy
  14. People pleasing (difficulty saying no, lack of boundaries, apologizing when haven’t done anything wrong)

12 Tips for Managing Autism in Women

Lean Into Support

1. Reach out to others. If you’re feeling isolated, try reaching out to others females you know who have autism or joining an in-person support group for females with autism.
2. Online communities. Many autistic women use online communities to create friendships and gain support. Check out online communities like Autistic Self Advocacy Network and Spectrum Women. There are also countless Facebook groups that bring autistic women together.
3. Online resources. You can find blog posts, information, and first-person stories online. It can help you feel less alone to hear about others who may have a similar experiences to you.
4. Read books on females with autism. There are a number of books and other reading materials that may help you better understand autism and be more accepting of yourself. Thinking In Pictures: My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin is a great place to start.

Enroll in Therapy

1. Speech and language therapy. This can help women who are struggling with particular speech and language difficulties.
2. Music and art therapy. These can help women better articulate themselves or express emotions through a creative outlet.
3. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT can help with anxiety that is often associated with autism. It can help you understand your thoughts and feelings, and how this impacts your behaviour.
4. Social skills therapy. This can help women with autism engage in social situations in a more confident way and reduce masking and social withdrawal.

Self Care Strategies

1. Mindful movement. People with autism crave repetitive movements as a way to self-soothe. Mindful movement such as yoga, tai chi, or dancing fulfills the need for repetition and sensory feedback, combats restlessness, builds motor control, and is incredibly freeing.
2. Talk therapy. Talk therapy is a powerful form of self care. It can be used to work through social isolation, anxiety, fear, perfectionism, and other difficulties autistic women often face.
3. Create a sensory record. Recognizing patterns of triggers is super important to minimizing future stress. Common triggers include crowds, smells, food, uncomfortable temperatures, unstructured time, and unfamiliar social situations. By creating a sensory record, you can create an individualized routine that helps you avoid personal triggers.
4. Socialize on your own terms. Learn what your socializing limits are, accept them, and work with them. You may feel best when bringing a close friend to social gatherings and leaving time in your schedule to decompress after an event. Do what feels right for you.

Autism in women presents differently than autism in men. We hope these tips for managing autism in women are helpful!

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Autism in Women: 26 Things to Know | Autism in women and girls is often misdiagnosed or overlooked because they present differently than men with autism. Females are more likely to camouflage their behaviours, which means they can go their entire lives without a diagnosis, leading to troubles with self-esteem, self-confidence, etc. It’s so important to understand what autism looks like in women to ensure proper support and accommodations -- click for everything you need to know.

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