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Autism Q and A: Girls are Autistic too

Mar 1st, 2021

We are going to talk about Autistic Women and Girls. 

When you think of autism do girls and women come to mind? I remember when my son was diagnosed in 2008 it seemed there were far fewer girls than boys attending his autism program. “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” (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, Bipolar 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.

Articles about Underdiagnosis in Girls and Women

The Other Autism 

This article features the difficulties involved with seeking an autism assessment as a female and includes information about masking and camouflaging (The Other Autism, Dec 11, 2020). 

Spectrum News: Autism in Girls 

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). 

Sex Matters: The Secondary Impact of Low Prevalence 

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). 

Improving the Recognition Women & Girls on the Autism Spectrum  

“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). 

The Spoiled Brat Stereotype and Autistic Children 

Examining the “spoiled brat stereotype” and how sometimes autism is perceived as bad behaviour, especially in females, and how we can challenge our assumptions (Autistic Science Person, 2020). 

Girls on the Spectrum 

Pediatrician Dr. Alisa Lipson shares what she has learned about females and autism, including masking and compensation (Dr. Alisa Lipson, September 25, 2019). 

Embrace ASD 

An article about autistic traits in women and other topics such as masking (Dr. Nataile Engelbrecht RP ND, Sept 4, 2018). 

Are Autistic Females Rare? 

An article discussing autism diagnosis in women, camouflaging and masking (Dr. Nataile Engelbrecht RP ND, June 19, 2018).  

‘I Thought I Was Lazy’: The Invisible Day-To-Day Struggle For Autistic Women 

This insightful article was written by self-advocate Reese Piper (November 30, 2017). 

The Autistic Advocate 

This enlightening article was written by self-advocate Kieran Rose (The Autistic Advocate, Feb 5, 2021).

12 People On What It Felt Like To Discover Autism

The author, Reese Piper, “talked with 12 people about what it felt like to discover autism after years in the dark” (Autstic Women and Non-Binary Network, 2018).

 

“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”

 

Articles about Co-Occurring Conditions 

Girls & Women with Eating Disorders 

A video series exploring eating disorders, ADHD and ASD and how they may be related (ACT, 2017). 

Autistic Women’s Experiences of Eating Disorder Services.

The experience of eating disorder services from the perspective of autistic women, parents and healthcare professionals

Practical Strategies for Supporting Mental Wellness 

A video series discussing clinical techniques to help support girls and women on the spectrum, presented by Dori Zener, MSW, RSW (ACT, April 28 & 29, 2017). 

Why Female Autism is Questioned 

Article exploring the questioning of female autism and its impact (Dr. Nataile Engelbrecht RP ND, Sept. 4, 2018).  

Other Resources

What Autistic Women Want You to Know 

What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew

 

 

For additional topics like women self-advocates, puberty, and other great resources featuring autistic women and girls check out our Celebrating Autistic Women blog post. (Will be published on March 8th, 2021. Stay tuned!)

 

We understand the importance of gender expression and don’t want anyone to feel excluded. As such, we will be focusing on Non-binary and Autigender content in our June 2021 theme!  

 

Written by Lisa Watson and Sharon Grattan, Regional Coordinators

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