Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and is not intended to be used as medical/mental health advice. Please do not self-diagnose. This is by no means a comprehensive list and many symptoms are condensed for brevity.
Autism is an incredibly complex condition. While it primarily affects a person’s ability to socialize and make friends, it also comes with physical aspects; self-stimulation, sensory processing issues, repetition, etc. While anyone on the autism spectrum may experience these effects to varying degrees, the way the symptoms present themselves in females are often quite different. Males are diagnosed at much higher rates and at much earlier ages, whereas some women may not receive a diagnosis until well into adulthood. In fact, many women are misdiagnosed with other conditions before it is revealed that they’re on the autism spectrum. With a condition so complex and unique from person to person, we’ll try to break down some of the ways autism shows itself in women and girls differently than in males.
1. Difficulties with Communication
Communication difficulties are the biggest signs of autism. For any gender, there may be issues with eye contact (either completely avoidant or forced for prolonged periods of time). Similarly, people on the spectrum may talk excessively about a subject and not pick up on social cues. They may also have difficulties identifying facial expressions and reading people’s emotions. In girls specifically, they may be quieter and reserved than what is typically expressed in boys. Additionally, girls may “mask” their symptoms by studying the people around them closely and mimicking their behavior. A person’s ability to mask their symptoms may be so convincing, that people oftentimes don’t realize a person is autistic. However, the condition still exists even if the person doesn’t seem to have it (Sissons, 2019).
2. Self-Stimulation Behaviors
People on the autism spectrum may engage in self-stimulating behaviors, otherwise known as stimming. These activities can range from anything to a combination of rocking back and forth, hand flapping, hair twirling, repetitive sounds, to many others, including walking on one’s tiptoes! While everyone, autistic or not, to some extent, may engage in some sort of self-stimulating behavior, In autism, however, it’s much more prominent and often a necessity to relieve stress and manage their environment. Despite it being quite visible, especially in males, females with the condition may be able to hide their stimming more effectively with longer hair and jewelry, or by simply avoiding stim behaviors in public (Pietrangelo, 2019).
3. Sensory Processing Issues
Sensory processing problems can come in many forms. Most commonly, people on the autism spectrum may face difficulties by being extra sensitive to loud noises and/or bright lights. Additionally, a person can face issues with certain textures which can affect everything from the food they eat (for example, avoiding food based on texture) to clothing (avoiding tags and certain materials). Sensory processing may be invisible to outsiders. The issues may be minimized down to picky eating and other signs may be considered personal preference. As well, a person can take steps to minimize their sensory processing problems discreetly (such as wearing sunglasses, ear protection, or choosing specific fabrics to wear). Women and girls, in general, may also be less vocal about their discomfort making it even more difficult to recognize on top of their strategies to minimize the issue (Sissons, 2019).
4. Need For Organization
People on the autism spectrum may find themselves needing to stick to a schedule and feel discomfort whenever plans change. While this may agitate a person, in some cases a person can have a meltdown, even if the inconvenience is small. Another side of the organization can do with a person’s interests. Boys tend to show a greater tendency to keep things lined up in a specific order or pattern. Girls tend to not do this as much rather are more focused on collecting objects and amassing knowledge about them. In any case, autistic people tend to rely on structure and order in both their physical environment and their routines (Szalavitz, 2016).
5. Hyper-fixation and Special Interests
Boys on the spectrum will tend to have an intense and odd fascination with a specific subject such as trains or technology. Girls on the other hand also tend to have the same intense interests, however, they may fall into more socially acceptable feminine subjects such as princesses or make-up. While boys’ interests may stand out more because of how much they differ with their peers, girls tend to have similar interests as other girls, albeit much more intense and eccentric. Of course, this is a generalized view and a person’s hyper-fixation can be anything regardless of their gender. These hyper-fixations may be extremely narrow and focus on small details. For instance, a girl may be interested in a specific fantasy novel for its characters and setting. However, they care little about the plot or the genre itself (Rudy 2020).
Autism affects each person differently and is more noticeable in some compared to others. However, just because some signs are less visible, doesn’t by any means erase or minimize the experience of the autistic person. While girls may show the condition differently than their male counterparts, they often face the same struggles and experiences regardless. Autistic people (and especially women) can go on to live functional lives, have children, own homes, keep a job, just as efficiently as a person without the condition. However, getting a diagnosis can be the first step to recognize the triumphs and hardships that come with autism. What are your thoughts on the matter? Let us know in the comment section.
- Arky, Beth. “Why Many Autistic Girls Are Overlooked.” Child Mind Institute, 23 Oct. 2019, childmind.org/article/autistic-girls-overlooked-undiagnosed-autism/.
- Hobbs, Katherine. “Signs of Autism in Girls – Is Asperger’s in Women Overlooked?” Autism Parenting Magazine, 23 June 2020, www.autismparentingmagazine.com/signs-of-autism-in-girls/.
- O’Keefe , Corinne. “Understanding Autism in Women.” Healthline , 7 Mar. 2019, www.healthline.com/health/autism-in-women.
- Pietrangelo, Ann. “Stimming: Causes and Management.” Healthline , 27 June 2019, www.healthline.com/health/autism/stimming.
- Rudy, Lisa Jo. “Could Your Daughter Be Autistic? 11 Signs of Autism in Girls.” Verywell Health, 4 Jan. 2020, www.verywellhealth.com/signs-of-autism-in-girls-260304.
- Sissons, Claire. “Autism in Girls: Symptoms and Diagnosis.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 26 June 2019, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325574#why-doctors-might-miss-it.
- Szalavitz, Maia. “Autism-It’s Different in Girls.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 1 Mar. 2016, www.scientificamerican.com/article/autism-it-s-different-in-girls/.