Recognizing Autism in Women

Up until recently, many people believed that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) was more common in men than in women. However, new research suggests that autism may be just as common in women as in men. One reason for the discrepancy in the statistics could be that the majority of women are underdiagnosed with autism. Learning more about how autism presents itself in women compared to men can help parents, teachers, or even yourself to be more understanding toward autism in women. 

Why Autism Is Underdiagnosed in Women

There are several theories for why autism is more often diagnosed in men than women. Autism is typically diagnosed when an individual is a child by a physician. Some researchers have argued that autism is the result of an “extreme male brain.” As a result, physicians may look more closely for signs of autism in boys rather than girls. 

If autism is not diagnosed when a girl is a child, it may continue to be undiagnosed as the girl grows up. A study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) discusses “camouflaging,” a technique where an individual with autism may hide or alter their behaviors in different ways.

Some common ways to camouflage include:

  • Imitating social behavior

  • Practicing jokes or conversation topics beforehand

  • Copying facial expressions and body language

  • Forcing uncomfortable eye contact

  • Following a predetermined “script” for social interactions

The study argues that women are more likely to use camouflaging as a coping mechanism, ensuring that they “go undetected and undiagnosed for longer” than their male counterparts. A similar study published by the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that for women with autism, “their difficulties are frequently mislabelled or missed entirely” unless their symptoms are extremely severe. 

Living With Undiagnosed Autism

In some cases, living with autism can cause challenges in social, professional, economic, and academic areas. An early diagnosis can help you understand how autism presents in your life, helping you make any adjustments for your health and well-being if needed. Being undiagnosed may also cause you to feel like you:

  • Might be different or weird

  • Don’t “get” social situations as others do

  • Can’t handle high sensory situations

  • Are inflexible and can’t manage any change in routine 

While you may feel that you have weaknesses or flaws, being diagnosed with autism can help you understand why you may feel the way you do. 

Autism Symptoms in Men vs. Women

In reality, there are not many differences in autism symptoms shown by men versus women. However, because women cope by camouflaging more frequently than men do, the most significant difference could be that autism symptoms in women are not as pronounced or noticeable as you might expect. 

Common symptoms of autism include:

  • Requiring strict routines and schedules

  • Explicitly avoiding eye contact in social situations

  • Not being interested in people or social situations

  • Preferring to be alone than in groups

  • Repeat words, actions, or behaviors

  • Show intense interest in a specific subject

  • Difficulty expressing emotions or participating in “play”

Learning Your Strengths

Sometimes, looking at a list of autism symptoms can be daunting and uncomfortable. You might feel like specific articles offer a long list of negative or unwanted behaviors, leaving you feeling like you need to be “fixed” or “changed” to be whole. In reality, many strengths come from having autism. 

A few examples of “negative” symptoms that can be strengths include:

  • Feeling different from peers:

    While you may not feel like you fit into large groups, many people with autism can create very strong bonds with one or two people, making you an extraordinarily loyal and lasting friend. 

  • Fixation or interest in one specific subject:

    While this intense interest may be framed as a distraction when it comes to school or work, a dedicated fascination can lead to expertise in a particular area that is always interesting and fulfilling to you. 

  • Difficulty processing sensory experiences:

    Although experiences that involve a large amount of sensory processing can feel painful and uncomfortable, you might also find extreme joy and satisfaction when experiencing smaller sensory stimuli.

While this is just a short list and is not comprehensive, the overall idea is that autism does not have to be framed in a negative light but can be seen as positive. For women especially, being diagnosed with autism may be especially difficult since it seems that there are not as many women with autism out there.

You might feel isolated and alone, causing self-defeating thoughts and pain. Understanding that autism in women is much more common than you realize and that autism does not have to be seen as a negative diagnosis can help you accept your diagnosis with ease.

It’s a common theory that autism is more common in men than in women. Some researchers have found that, in reality, autism in women might be just as common as in men. Autism in women may be vastly underdiagnosed because of a coping technique called “camouflaging.” In order to “hide” autism symptoms, women cope by learning how to mimic social behaviors, copy facial expressions, and practice interactions beforehand to blend in. Being diagnosed with autism and understanding that it can be common in women can help you feel less isolated and prevent self-defeating thoughts. At SokyaHealth, we can help you understand how autism may affect your life. Our compassionate, caring, licensed therapists treat you as a whole person, not just a collection of seemingly negative symptoms. We provide holistic telehealth therapy that can help you recognize your strengths and capabilities. Call us at (877) 840-6956 today for more information on our services. 

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