Autism in Women

April is Autism Awareness Month.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) involves social skills, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. I heard it described as a sphere of symptoms that manifest differently in each person with ASD, and that seems to make more sense than a continuum of symptoms that is often used to describe the disorder.

In learning about neurodivergency, I came across recent writings about women and ASD that discuss how women tend to have different ASD traits than men and that women are often misdiagnosed or diagnosed as adults, including later in life. One study indicates as many as 80% of girls with ASD are undiagnosed at age 18.

That shouldn’t surprise me. Here in the US women only have two problems: if it’s a physical issue she needs to lose weight, and if it’s a mental health issue she needs to get herself together and pull herself up by her bootstraps. So of course if a woman has ASD it’s likely to be overlooked.

ASD is not just a man’s world, and if you, like me, have been diagnosed with a smorgasbord of mental illnesses that neither talk therapy nor medication seem to help, maybe you too should explore the topic of neurodivergency, and perhaps even ASD, as a possible explanation for you.

What does ASD often look like in women, and why has it previously been overlooked? Dr. Claire Jack, who was herself diagnosed with ASD in her forties, identifies differences in women in this recent article for Psychology Today.

Women hide by masking or camoflaging. They may read voraceously, spend time online watching/listening to others, and people-watch to learn how to respond to different situations. They are more prone to dressing comfortably than in the latest fashions. They may appear as monotone and silent in their natural state until a topic that interests them comes up, then they are suddently animated and talkative. Then there’s this:

Neurodivergent Insights provided links to studies indicating that approximately 23% of women with eating disorders had ASD. Adults with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) are more likely to have been victims of maltreatment, bullying, and sexual assault during adolescence. And one study found that women with ASD are 13 times more likely to die by suicide.

Diagnosis is important because it helps people to better understand themselves, but may not be easy for adults to find. If you know or suspect an adult has ASD, I encourage you to learn more about what ASD is and offer support to that person, not just in April, but every month of the year.


12 thoughts on “Autism in Women

  1. What a great article, Jen!
    There is one thing that I have to disagree with you on and that is why women are often misdiagnosed. It has to do with our culture. How differently girls are raised as opposed to how men are raised. We live in a society where girls are taught to conform and fit in. We are taught at an early age to smile, to be pleasing. Women have been taught to mask at an early age. Whether on the spectrum or not, we are taught to mask, conform and fit into almost any situation.
    Because most women are already accomplished ‘maskers, that makes it hard to look at women and discern if they’re on the spectrum or not. Any awkwardness she exhibits is written off as simple shyness.
    I’ve never been one for masking, which has always gotten me in trouble all of my life. I don’t know if it has anything to do with my abusive background but I have a hard time faking a smile and trying to fit in to make others comfortable.
    Another interesting thing is when I found out I was on the spectrum and joined a few Asperger/Autism groups I learned that we don’t have an easy time showing empathy. I found that rather odd because I’ve shown empathy all my life. Many people in the community find it different that I don’t experience that problem. About a year after I discovered I was on the spectrum I also found out that I’m INFJ which is supposed to be the rarest personality type in the world – at least that’s what they say.
    I’ve spent my life defending others who are different, whether on the spectrum or not. I don’t like to see anyone abused and bullied. One thing INFJ has given me is the ability to zero in on someone’s heart. That’s the very first thing I normally gravitate to. I can read people like a book. That more than likely comes from 2 1/2 decades of abuse and neglect at the hands of my family. It has caused me to become hypervigilant.
    There is one major thing we disagree on and that’s okay. We can agree to disagree. I have my perspective and you have yours, and I respect you. The major issue is I don’t believe Asperger’s is a disability. It’s never been a problem for me. Any hardships I had in the past and any in the future are not caused by Asperger’s. It’s caused by the stereotypical, prejudicial ideas that are stuck in people’s heads.
    When I first left home and started working, I lost every job I ever had. I was quite capable to do my job, whichever job I had at the moment. When people saw that I was different they would mock and bully me. Finally, after about 4 years they decided they’re not putting up with me anymore. So, I was fired. People don’t tolerate those who are different, no matter what’s ‘causing’ that difference. I didn’t lose those jobs because I was inept and couldn’t do my job, but because I’m an unacceptable parasite. My livelihood was ripped from me nearly 20 times.
    Because I found myself without a job with no cushion to save me, I became homeless…4 times in my life. I had a hard life and I can’t take anymore.
    Anyway, I’m not arguing with you about whether being on the spectrum makes you disabled. I just want to let you know that I’m trying to educate people regarding Asperger’s/Autism on my blog and in my memoir and other writings. As it stands, I am on Disability, but not because I’m on the spectrum. It’s because of the decades of physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse I went through. Oh, not to mention the multiple concussions I received as a child.
    All of that abuse has caused me so much trauma that I have a hard time coping anymore.
    Well, my friend, please forgive me for such a long comment. I don’t blame you if you don’t read it to its entirety. Thanks Jen!

    1. I don’t see it as a disability either, but I do see the need for legal protections for the very reason you mentioned. I’ve experienced the same problem with folks not liking me. As for the lack of empathy, I do empathize in my own way,. But I have a hard time discerning feelings, which is why I started writing poetry and painting, because I can express them through creativity. I feel great empathy for you and I also feel anger that you’ve experienced so much hardship in your life for things that are not your fault.
      BTW I am an INTJ.

      1. Thanks for clarifying that for me, Jen. Now it makes sense. Yes, we definitely need rights and protections.
        I am in impressed that you are working on your creativity to help develop and strengthen your empathy. I know you have much empathy for me and I feel blessed because of it. I feel that we are good friends.
        Why don’t you display some of your paintings in one of your blog posts? I would so love to see them!
        Thanks, Jen💜 We’ve all had it rough in one way or another. I’m sorry you had to deal with it too. It’s just not fair, but that’s the way society works.
        INTJ? I’m not up on what all those letters mean. This may sound silly, but I keep hearing that INTJs and INFJs don’t get along very well. Maybe I got that all wrong. You’ll have to enlighten me.
        I hope you have a great day today.💜

      2. I see the world as a problem to be solved. I think that makes it hard for me in that most people don’t want to know they have a problem, much less solve it. But we make great engineers and accountants – jobs where those skills are valuable. Ironically I worked in social work before my current job. I hated it but I did my best because I cared about those I worked with. I also hated those that treated our clientele like pawns, which is one of many reasons why I hate politicians.

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