Understanding How Autism Affects Women

Young woman having migraine

Autism is a condition that affects how a person socializes and communicates with other people. Both men and women are susceptible to this condition, however there are some key differences in how autism manifests in the two sexes. 

Despite the obvious differences between the female brain and the male one, experts agree that the symptoms don’t vary all that much between women and men. However, boys and men are often over-represented in autism-related studies and diagnoses. 

How is Autism Diagnosed and What Are the Symptoms?

Diagnosis is often tricky, as the individual needs to be examined by experts over a period of time. In general, people who suffer from autism may exhibit a combination of these symptoms: 

  • They won’t look at or listen to people
  • They don’t respond when called
  • They don’t like being touched
  • They prefer being alone
  • Cannot hold their own in a conversation
  • They will fixate on their favorite subject and talk about it constantly while ignoring others
  • They cannot express emotions easily
  • They cannot understand other peoples’ emotions
  • They have trouble following simple directions
  • They display an inability to recognize nonverbal forms of communication

Are the Symptoms Different In Women?

More often than not, women and girls display the same symptoms as men. Autism in women, however, is sometimes really hard to detect, as researchers believe that women are better at camouflaging their social inabilities and awkwardness. 

Some women who suffer from autism will prepare phrases and jokes to use in conversation and will force themselves to look the other person in the eyes when conversing. If they are unsure of the social context of a particular interaction, they will simply mimic what others are doing and saying. 

There are, however, women who are incapable of coping in social situations. A 2013 study has proven that while the symptoms between men and women are largely the same, the effect they have on women and girls is more severe. In short, when compared to men, women: 

  • Have greater difficulties in social scenarios
  • Are less likely to adapt
  • Exhibit more emotional problems, often leading to temper tantrums and hostility
  • Suffer from more language and cognitive problems

How Common Is Autism In Girls?

Autism symptoms will appear before the age of 2 and it seems that boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed as autistic in comparison to girls. This was challenged by experts in the aforementioned study that examined close to 2,420 people with autism and deducted that there isn’t a lot of data surrounding women and girls. 

Due to some women’s ability to mask their autism symptoms, a lot of them will go undiagnosed. That, combined with the general lack of data and accredited long-term studies, leads us to conclude that it is highly likely that autism in girls and women is far more prevalent than we think today. 

How Is Autism In Women Treated?

There is currently no cure for autism. Some behavioral problems and symptoms may be regulated by using prescribed medications. Far more importantly, different kinds of therapies are the keys to helping an individual cope with autism, manage their symptoms, and interact with the world around them in a positive way.

If you suspect that you, your child, or a member of your family may suffer from autism, then you should consult with an expert to get a proper diagnosis. You may also reach out to other women who suffer from autism and get their guidance as well. 
Ava Wadaby is a contributing writer for Autism Parenting Magazine. She researches and writes about autism as she works to understand the challenges of her son who was diagnosed with Autism and ADHD. She also regularly conducts activities with children in her neighborhood, focusing on their learning and development.


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