One of, if not the biggest, misconception about autism is that is it something that affects males and not females. Things have changed a bit now, but even the often quoted fact that more men have autism than women can be misleading. It is known that more men are diagnosed with autism, but it seems highly likely that just as many women are autistic as men. But sadly women don’t seem to fit in to the conventional spectrum the same way men do,and this can offten lead to them remaining undiagnosed . But for the sake of the health of all the autistic females out there it is time people started recognizing autism in all its forms.
Autism tends to present differently in women than it does in men. In fact even though two people can be autistic they can show totally different traits. A man who was said to be a classic autistic might not talk much, and may not be able to show his empathy whereas a woman who fitted the classic traits of female autism might be overly empathetic, and not be able to stop talking for instance. The idea of someone having to tick a handful of boxes to be autistic is flawed, and has been for years. There are a lot of boxes people might tick, and they might be totally different from person to person, or from male to female.
Females often tend to look as if they are dealing with the challenging aspects of their autism a lot better than males do, but often this is just on the surface . It seems to be easier for women to copy what those around them do, but this can only last for so long. Some women with autism describe trying to fit in as like acting in one giant show; everything they do on the outside world is just copied from someone else, and done to try to be like other females, and this can put huge strain on them. This should not be mixed up with the women/girls trying to be any less autistic – they are not, as a lot of them do not even know they are autistic. The copying is often done subconsciously, and in fact a lot of females with autism are left wanting to know why they find things hard that everyone else seems to find so easy.
Often this will lead to an Autistic Crash; this is where someone who appears to be coping is unable to do so anymore, and ends up with depression and, or anxiety, and high levels of stress- related illness. Autistic crashes seem to be more common in women, and people have to remember this when looking at how a woman’s autism is affecting her. There is no point saying “She falls here on our spectrum,”; for example,she can go out and talk to people, and get the bus by herself. What has to be looked at is what toll this takes on her mind, and her anxiety levels. Assessing someone’s needs should never be based on what they do, but on what it takes for them to do it, and also what the long term impact of this might be. ( A link to a previous article on what an autistic crash is, and the best way to deal with one is included at the end of this article)
All forms of autism need to be recognized, and its crucial that people understand that anyone can be autistic, and it will not look the same in every autistic individual. The issue with the spectrum as it is now is that it is outdated. Previous articles in this series have looked at how it is treated more as a scale where people are ranked from mild to severe autism based on what they can do at the time of assessment, but this becomes even harder for people who don’t fit with a lot of the traits they are being assessed for. Autism in females needs to be recognized, and the system changed to allow for the fact that it presents in different ways. A lot of good has been done, but there is still more to do.