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We are increasingly discovering that women with autism present in different ways to men with autism, which often means their symptoms can be overlooked. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects women in many ways but if you find yourself taking an online test for ASD, you may find that the questions do not resonate with your experience.
I have put together a list of symptoms based on what I have learned from working with numerous women with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The list is not designed to be a diagnostic tool but it may be a starting point to help you establish whether or not you display a significant amount of ASD symptoms.
I have broken the list of symptoms down into various categories, the first of which is “social.” Women with ASD often struggle socially, feeling uncomfortable in social situations, finding it hard to work out people’s motives, and feeling exhausted and overwhelmed after socially interacting. On the flip side, they tend to be excellent at mimicking other people and learning to “pass” as normal.
- Being bullied by other people?
- Being sexually abused?
- Being emotionally abused?
- Monitoring your behaviour and responses in social situations?
- Feeling confused in social situations?
- Feeling exhausted after a group meeting/party?
- Drinking to cope with social situations?
- Feeling tongue-tied in social situations?
- Disliking “small talk?”
- Favouring one-on-one relationships to group relationships?
- Wanting to talk about issues/hobbies you are passionate about?
- Needing a “checklist” for what to say when you meet new people?
- Feeling awkward and out of place?
- Putting in effort to say and do the right thing?
- Needing time alone to recharge?
- Finding it hard to understand and follow directions?
- Difficulty in making and maintaining eye contact?
- Desiring a very few close friends rather than a large group of friends?
- Being happy to go long periods without catching up with friends?
- Finding it hard to identify with other women?
Many women with autism experience issues with “filtering” sensory input, which can lead to an overload of information and the need to focus intently on one thing in order to avoid being overloaded. People with ASD may be highly sensitive and over-responsive to sounds, sights, smells, touch, and tastes. Many women are particularly sensitive to the feeling of clothes and makeup, pulling off clothing tags and opting for comfortable clothes over fashionable clothes and shoes every time. Some people with autism experience a reduced response to sensory stimuli, which may make them seek out sensory experiences to satisfy their need to experience things on a sensory level.
Have you, or do you currently find yourself:
- Disliking tags in clothes
- Being sensitive to high-pitched noises
- Finding some sensations (such as wool or nylon) difficult to cope with
- Disliking tight or uncomfortable clothes or shoes
- Choosing practical clothes over “attractive” clothes
- Disliking feeling of foundation or lipstick
- Disliking feeling of substances on fingertips (e.g. fruit, dirt, roughness)
- Being affected by bright lights
- Feeling overwhelmed in supermarkets/shopping stores
- Feeling overwhelmed or disliking being hugged/kissed by acquaintances
- Desire for spatial organisation, such as colour coordination
- Disliking loud environments (such as concerts)
- Having a strong reaction to certain scents (such as perfume)
- Strong aversions to types of foods
In addition to finding it hard to cope with a range of situations, women with autism may find that they respond in very deep ways to difficulties faced by others, but have problems in processing or expressing their reaction. Women with autism may find it hard to communicate their needs, generally, and keep things bottled up until they explode in a meltdown.
The following list of symptoms that women with autism may experience is not designed to be a diagnostic checklist, but may be helpful as a first start if you are beginning to explore whether or not you have ASD.
Have you, or do you currently find yourself :
- Becoming emotionally overwhelmed?
- Feeling exhausted?
- “Acting out” or having extreme emotional reactions (meltdowns)?
- Becoming emotionally confused and not knowing how to react?
- Being diagnosed with anxiety or depression?
- Feeling a deep physical response to someone else’s distress?
- Having difficulty in processing or expressing an emotional response?
- Finding it easier to shut off from other people’s distress?
- Having a fluid idea of sexuality?
- Having difficulty in expressing needs?
- Feeling confused or disoriented?
- Having poor emotional regulation?
- Feeling extreme anxiety when routines/plans are changed?
- Desiring to be alone to emotionally recharge?
- Experiencing an eating disorder?
- Engaging in “black and white” or “all or nothing” thinking?
- “Escaping” through music, real or imagined?