Autism Spectrum Disorder is typically associated with boys who have an abnormal obsession with trains, severe behavioural issues and deficits in communication. While research has come a long way in identifying and diagnosing autism, there is still very little understanding as to the identification and impact of ASD in girls, particularly those with high functioning autism/Asperger’s Syndrome.
So what are some commonalities in girls and women with ASD? The following are not definitive, as autism is a spectrum, but I can identify with all of these, as can many other women on the spectrum.
1. Girls and women on the spectrum co mmonly have a weird relationship with food
Girls and women on the autistic spectrum typically eat the same thing for most meals, eating typically ‘white coloured’ foods (Attwood, 2006). It is not uncommon for girls and women on the spectrum to suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, with research suggesting that anorexia is another presentation of autism (Oldershaw, Treasure, Hambrook, Tchanturia & Schmidt, 2011).
2. Girls and women on the spectrum commonly have difficulty tolerating noise
Sensory issues are common among almost everyone on the spectrum (Attwood, 2003), but in girls and women this typically gets overlooked, and they are commonly labeled as being ‘dramatic’ or ‘bitchy’. Loud noise can have a significant impact on how girls and women regulate their emotions (Attwood, 2003).
3. Girls and women on the spectrum commonly have trouble forming and maintaining relationships
It is common among girls and women on the spectrum to misread social cues and not have an understanding of where they fit in a social structure (Iland, 2006). This misunderstanding can lead to inappropriate information sharing, getting in the way of forming relationships (Iland, 2006). This can lead to social isolation or avoidance, which is typically perceived as being shy.
4. Girls and women on the spectrum commonly have good memories
As is common among the majority of those on the spectrum, girls and women have extremely good memories, often being able to recite whole plays and portions of novels (Attwood, 2006). This memory allows girls and women to have a ‘script’ about how real life conversations should occur, allowing them to mask social awkwardness (Attwood, 2006).
5. Some women on the spectrum can have an unusual tone of voice
The tone of many women’s voice resembles the tone of a younger person, with almost a child-like quality (Attwood, 2006). Some women may also use an unusual intonation that does not necessarily fit the context or situation (Attwood, 2003).
Attwood, T. (2003). Asperger’s syndrome: A guide for parents and professionals. London:Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Attwood, T. (2006). The pattern of abilities and development of girls with Asperger’s syndrome. In T. Attwood (Ed.). Asperger’s and girls (p.p. 1-7). Texas: Future Horizons Inc.
Iland, L. (2006). Girl to girl: Advice on friendship, bullying and fitting in. In T. Attwood (Ed.). Asperger’s and girls (p.p. 33-63). Texas: Future Horizons Inc.
Oldershaw, A., Treasure, J., Hambrook, D., Tchanturia, K., & Schmidt, U. (2011). Is anorexia nervosa a version of autism spectrum disorders?, European Eating Disorders Review, 19(6), 462-474. doi: 10.1002/erv.1069