Psychologists, physicians, educators, and parents remain largely uneducated and uninformed regarding high functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, particularly in girls and women, and the person is often misdiagnosed (Fattig, 2007)
One reason why the prevalence in girls and women is so low in comparison to boys and men may be the fundamental lack of awareness of what Asperger’s Syndrome “looks like” in females. Traditional frameworks may indicate that the female with Asperger’s Syndrome is just shy, quiet, perfect at school so her parents must be exaggerating, tomboyish, moody, overly competitive, aloof, Gothic, depressed, anxious, or a perfectionist (Fattig, 2007).
The ratio of males to females who are diagnosed with autism is 3.5 males to 1 female
Females are referred for diagnosis ten times less than their male counterparts
There is little understanding of how girls and women are affected by Autism .
For many years Autism was thought to mainly affect boys and much of the research that has been done has been done on boys and men .Females are more adaptive than males and develop strategies and scripts that mask their difficulties but which also make diagnosis difficult .This masking can lead to many problems as it creates high levels of stress and anxiety and can in turn lead to the development of eating disorders and chronic depression
Girls and women tend to be more stigmatised by autism than boys .Women’s symptoms differ from those of males on the spectrum and this difference between the sexes has not been fully researched or accepted even by the majority of the medical profession. We already know that male and female brains differ and that healthy functioning males and females have very different traits so surely it makes sense that that will also be the case for males and females on the spectrum .Women with autism are going undiagnosed and the ones that are lucky enough to receive a formal diagnosis find that services for adults with high functioning autism can be very limited .In many areas the only help available is a monthly social group which is often male dominated .Many Women feel very let down by the system .These women can suffer from chronic anxiety, insomnia and many sensory issues.
Those who have had input from services have often received multiple mental health diagnosis and are forced to undergo treatment that is not designed for their difficulties .Females are assessed using the criteria for males . These women want recognition of their struggle to cope and need support .They want to be validated and finally have an answer why they don’t fit into the boxes that society expects us too .These women feel invisible, they don’t fit into society and they get ignored by the medical profession, it’s no wonder that many go on to develop depression.
Autistic women learn to appear “normal” by copying others and by minimising their behaviors or they hide and socially isolate whenever they can .They have been judged to be the freaks, geeks and oddballs of society many experienced bullying from their peers both in childhood and adult life. Some mask their difficulties by learning scripts and ways of behaving for certain situations .Put them in a situation they have never been in and they will soon become exhausted due to having to hide who they truly are . Many are refused a diagnosis for having too much imagination or creativity yet some of the greatest scientists were believed to be on the spectrum and as ASD is sometimes referred to as being right brained it makes sense ,as it is the right hemisphere that sparks inspiration and ideas .
Women with Autism find ways to cope just as all women do .It’s a female thing .Many women with autism are poets ,musicians and actresses .They are free thinkers and highly creative in their own way .More girls are now being diagnosed but there are many of us that were missed purely and simply because Autism was not understood when we were children .That doesn’t mean that we struggle any less .If a woman is lucky enough to get a diagnosis there is very little post diagnosis support and this has to change .We need far more psychologists that are trained to recognise autistic spectrum conditions in women and girls. Women who have received a diagnosis need post diagnosis support, employment support and training, they also need positive mentors and counselors who are trained to understand the complexities of Autism
Even after diagnosis it can often be much harder for women and girls with autism, as many services are not geared up for meeting their needs. They may have few conventionally ‘feminine’ interests and are at a much higher risk of getting into a pattern of behavior that can cause a cycle of problems such as self-harm and eating disorders. There can also be huge implications in terms of social communication, relationships and employment.