Autism in adults may look different based on the sex of an individual and their personal experiences.
In this blog, we’ll be looking at the following…
- Does autism present itself differently in women?
- Is autism more common in women?
- What are the characteristics of women with autism?
- Are women more likely to camouflage their symptoms?
- How can masking hurt women with autism?
- How to support women with autism
Does Autism Present Itself Differently in Women?
For women diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the symptoms can vary. They may present more severely or be less noticeable; it depends on the individual rather than their sex. Women, in comparison to men, are diagnosed with ASD significantly later in life and experience longer delays between an initial evaluation and a clinical ASD diagnosis.
What Percentage of Females Has Autism?
Is Autism More Common in Women?
On the contrary, autism is significantly more common in males than females. Boys are four times more likely to receive autism than girls. Again, there is debate whether this is due to autism being more prevalent in the male sex or because females are more greatly underdiagnosed.
Some arguments suggest that the more significant number of boys with an autism diagnosis may be due to biological differences between the sexes.
What are the Characteristics of Women with Autism?
Each person with an autism diagnosis is individual and will exhibit the characteristics associated with autism uniquely. That said, there are general diagnostic criteria and signs of autism to look for, including:
- Short attention span
- Inability to make eye contact or listen to people
- Not responding to their name
- Hostility towards physical touch
- Self-isolating or anti-social behavior
- Exhibiting inappropriate or no facial expressions
- Inability to express emotions or recognize them in others
- Struggle with simple social cues or identifying nonverbal communication
- Struggles in interpersonal and social communication
- Poor social skills
- Obsession with specific subjects
- Speech problems, unusual speech patterns
- Repetitive movements, words, or phrases
- Keeping routines and rituals
- Self-harm, including biting and head-banging
- Light or sound sensitivity
- Strong food and texture preferences
If your loved one exhibits several symptoms, you can contact their primary doctor to receive professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment options.
Are Women More Likely to Camouflage Their Symptoms?
Hiding autism symptoms, or “autism masking,” is much more common in young adult women than men. Females experience greater social demands in society in comparison to males, feel less pressure, and are comfortable with being alone.
Women with high-functioning autism are more likely to pick up on the “micro-rejections” from their peers. As they interact with their peers, they may continue to experience micro-rejections, leading to feelings of inadequacy or like they’re misfits.
Micro-rejections can include:
- Rude, judgmental, or confused stares from their peers. This is often due to autism-based behaviors such as stimming.
- Being left out of social situations. Due to their behaviors and social interactions being different from their a-typical peers, females with autism may not be invited to parties, events, or hangouts with their peers. This can make them feel isolated and forgotten.
- Laughter or snickering from their peers. Different behaviors, such as talking about a favorite subject at length, can cause a reaction from peers.
When a female with autism experiences micro-rejections, they may feel pressured to suppress their natural tendencies in order to “fit in.”
How Can Masking Hurt Women with Autism?
When we suppress the behaviors and ways of expression that make us who we are, it impacts our identity and self-worth. It’s quite common for women with autism to experience poor mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Approximately 40% of adults with autism have had depression.
- Exhibiting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Expressing guilt, shame, and feeling worthless
- Lack of self-care skills (e.g., showering, eating healthy, going outside, etc.)
- Lack of energy
- Exhibiting ongoing negativity or pessimism
- Loss of interest in activities or subjects they usually enjoy
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Eating too much or too little
- Expressing thoughts of death, self-harm, or suicidal ideations
- Self-harm (e.g., head banging, cutting, or biting)
If you suspect a loved one may be dealing with suicidal ideations, please contact the National Suicide and Crises Lifeline by calling 988.
How to Support Women with Autism
Whether it be in an academic, professional, or casual setting, everyone can do their part to make people with autism feel included and equally important. When interacting with them, show attentiveness and ask questions.
Invite them to social events to show them they are thought of and important. If you know the triggers, such as loud noises, bright lights, or heavily populated areas, find ways to support them when these situations occur.