Women and Autism
Many women with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) go through their whole lives feeling different to other people and having difficulties in social situations, workplaces and in relationships, without knowing why.
Historically, diagnostic criteria have been based primarily on male experience, leading to the assumption that men are much more likely to have ASD than women. Hans Aspberger – who Aspberger’s Syndrome was named after – initially suggested that only males could be autistic (although he later changed his stance).
We’re now starting to realise that girls not only present differently to boys, but have a drive to be more sociable which means they become very good at learning to “pass” socially.
Cultural expectations of what it is to be a boy or girl also mean that ASD can go unnoticed in girls. Girls who are more withdrawn and tend to live in their own world may simply be called “shy”, which is a trait which other people might pay little attention to. Because of the ways in which autism presents in women and girls, they may develop obsessions which are seen as more “normal” than some of the obsessions that boys develop. For instance, girls are more likely to become obsessed with a band or celebrity than they are with collecting objects. A girl’s need to know every single fact about her favourite band might seem a lot more “normal” than a boy’s collection of Star Wars figures.
Social expectations are also partly what drives girls to put a huge amount of effort into learning social cues. Girls with ASD struggle massively with reading facial expressions and working out the intentions of other people. They suffer from overwhelm and can become confused when presented with too much information at one time. They can become exhausted quickly in social situations. All of this makes it really hard for girls to engage in social life. But they put the effort in. Many girls and women can, at least, “pass” as being as sociable as anyone else.
This ability to learn social rules and pass oneself off accordingly mean that, when it comes to diagnosis, many women and girls appear too “normal”. Often, they don’t even get as far as being referred for a diagnosis as their primary care giver cannot accept that they have a problem.
All of this can mean that women with ASD experience anxiety and depression as a result of trying to cope with life.
With the right approach, women with ASD can learn to be fully authentic to themselves and can develop the courage and commitment to living a life which feels right for them.
I work extensively with women who have ASD, having been diagnosed myself in my 40s. I offer the support and direction which can help you develop strategies for living and which will help you move towards self acceptance and self respect.