We are going to talk about Autistic Women and Girls.
When you think of autism do girls and women come to mind? “Girls are less likely to be diagnosed with autism than boys (the rate is about 1:4), but this isn’t because fewer girls are autistic. This is because the diagnostics are still catching up to the gender biases that once dictated that autism only occurred in boys. Instead, many girls are given “alphabet soup” diagnoses like: “she has ADHD + OCD + PDA” or “language delay + severe social anxiety,” etc.” (Vicky Ryan, 2020). Flash forward to 2021 and our society is getting better at recognizing autistic girls and women, but we still have a long way to go.
Why is it important to talk about the lack of diagnosis in women and girls?
Many women have gone undiagnosed throughout their childhood and into adulthood. Often, it is when their child is being assessed for autism, that they realize a lot of their traits and behaviours overlap with their child. They identify the same behaviours in their childhood that were dismissed or told were unacceptable and learned to repress those traits to people please or fit in socially.
Many women struggle with their mental health throughout most of their lives and have been told they have a wide variety of mental health diagnoses like Anxiety, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Depression, and have a general lack of understanding of who they are at their core, feel often misunderstood and labelled as overly-sensitive, emotional, empathic, or hypochondriac.
Girls learn at an early age to mask and often keep masking well into their adult life. It is often when they remove the mask that they realize they do not know who they are and have spent most of their lives trying to fit in socially, while they have lost their own identity of self. Masking can often lead to burnout, which can make executive function and day-to-day tasks very challenging.
“Many women have gone undiagnosed throughout their childhood and into adulthood.”
Pursuing a diagnosis typically can come from a woman who wants to heal from past experiences, trauma, personal growth, self-discovery, understand their mental health, and sometimes on the recommendation from a Doctor, Counsellor or Psychiatrist.
Going through the process of being assessed and diagnosed, many women finally feel heard and seen for the first time in their lives. The validation comes from a long journey of being dismissed, misunderstood, and told their struggles are rooted in the wrong diagnoses like Anxiety, Depression or BPD.
These women were often overlooked as children for autism as the characteristics and behaviours can vary greatly from boys. Girls tend to rely heavily on close friend peer relationships; these peers often speak for them and autistic girls learn to mask and mimic to fit into their social groups through copying friends and their mannerisms.
When reaching out to our communities we have heard that people are seeking information and resources for girls and women on the autism spectrum. We understand how important it is to highlight these unique journeys and have gathered a list of resources, divided into two topics: Under Diagnosis and Co-occurring Conditions.
This is an article exploring the barriers girls and women face while getting an autism diagnosis and the layers of bias towards what is largely seen as a male condition. (Spectrum News, by Georgia Lockwood-Estrin, Feb 3, 2021).
This is a video series featuring keynote speakers exploring the discrepancy in rates of diagnosis between males and females and concerns about the increased risks of co-occurring mental health conditions (ACT, April 4, 2018).
“In this thought-provoking presentation, Dr. William Mandy shares his research into the characteristics of autism in females, the implications for diagnosis, and ways of improving recognition, with a focus on practical ways of improving clinical and educational practice” (ACT, April 4, 2018).
“Many girls hide their autism, sometimes evading diagnosis well into adulthood. These efforts can help women on the spectrum socially and professionally, but they can also do serious harm” (Spectrum News, Feb 21, 2018).
How do Autistic Girls Present Differently than Boys? “It is becoming more acknowledged and recognized that girls on the autism spectrum present differently than boys do. Girls are often missed for a number ofcomplex reasons, but two of the main ones are masking and presenting internally,” (Autism Awareness Centre Inc, June 15, 2022).
“Many women struggle with their mental health throughout most of their lives and have been told they have a wide variety of mental health diagnoses”