A new study is trying to change the way women are tested for autism in a new approach to mental health testing.
According to Prof Michelle Garnett from the modified Girls Questionnaire for Autism Spectrum Condition, there is a need to group screening questions together into different areas that were common for autistic women. She says: “The findings of our study can help doctors and mental health professionals work out which women should be assessed for autism. Our findings may also help to change attitudes about who can be autistic, and what autism looks like.”
These areas were as follows:
|(1)||Imagination and play: Questions about interest in fantasy, fiction, and imaginative play in childhood.|
|(2)||Camouflaging: Questions about acting in certain ways to try to hide autistic traits.|
|(3)||Sensory sensitivities: Questions about feeling undersensitive or oversensitive to things such as touch, small, taste, and noise.|
|(4)||Socializing: Questions about feeling confused in social situations, and finding it difficult to join in.|
|(5)||Interests: Questions about interests that are not common for children who are the same age, and interests that are not common for many girls.|
Many studies have found that female autism symptoms differ from that of males. Like other female health-related issues, there is not much information or scientific research. It is, however, a topic worth exploring so women can spot the signs in themselves or their female family members or friends.
What are the most recognized and known symptoms of autism?
Common Symptoms of Autism in men and women
- Difficulty in understanding others’ feelings and thinking
- Social anxiety
- Difficulty making/keeping friends
- Difficulty in expressing self
- Unable to understand social norms/rules
- Avoids eye contact
- Unwavering daily routine; anxiety over changes
- Profound interest in certain activities and subjects
- Difficulty in adjusting to social settings, coming off as rude or disinterred in persons or subjects
- Tends to take things too literally
- Doesn’t like spontaneity; would rather have a plan of action
Why Are Women Overlooked For Autism?
Based on female autism phenotype, it’s believed that female autism symptoms are dissimilar from what many doctors agree to be the common symptoms, making it less likely they are diagnosed with the disorder. On top of that, females have an uncanny ability to hide what is wrong.
This may explain why teachers report more male students for autism testing than female ones.
Another problem comes from the researchers themselves, who have focused their attention on the extreme male brain theory. This theory looks at fetal testosterone and how it affects the brain’s development. Couple that with environmental and biological factors, and it seems boys may be at greater risk for autism. Hence, female autism doesn’t generate the kind of concern it should.
Why Is This So Problematic?
A lack of diagnosis – male or female – also opens up autistic individuals to manipulation and exploitation because they may not recognize a person or situation as a threat. This is especially true of autistic females who were unaware that they were susceptible and were later bullied, raped, etc.
For women who receive an autism diagnosis late in life, it’s a sense of long-overdue relief. It’s the knowing that something was off about them for decades but not quite able to explain why. For some women, it was a battle that led them into mental despair, with some thinking suicide was the only answer.
And still, females with autism do not receive the kind of support that men with autism do, despite numerous studies showing a close ratio in boys to girls with autism, including a 2:1, 3:1 and 4:1 ratio. Researchers from two different studies in 2015 and 2017 found that the male-to-female ratio for autism learned more in the 3:1 range.
A 1981 paper on the sex ratios in early childhood for autism from the esteemed psychiatrist Lorna Wing found that boys and men were 15 times more likely to have high-functioning autism (known as Asperger syndrome then), but there was a 2:1 boys-to-girls ratio with autistic individuals who had learning difficulties.
Differences in autistic trait symptom have lent support to the theory of camouflaging in autistic women, which implies that women can mask’socio-communicative impairments’ due to increased sensitivity to social pressure to fit in, gendered expectations for social behaviour, and strengths in some social-communication skills.
This is particularly common among high-functioning females on the autistic spectrum.
Camouflaging strategies include forcing yourself to make eye contact during talks and preparing jokes or phrases to be used in conversation ahead of time.
While both males and females with autism can hide their symptoms, it appears that girls and women are more likely to do so.
This could explain why women have a lower chance of still being diagnosed with autism.
Famous Ladies Speak Out On Autism Diagnosis
Many well-known women – from singers to actresses to TV personalities – have been diagnosed with the disorder. For example, British singer Susan Boyle was diagnosed with Asperger’s at 51 years old, who said she felt more relaxed about herself and relieved. According to Britain’s Got Talent star, doctors had diagnosed her with brain damage when she was a child – a label she called unfairly.
Courtney Love is another prime example of females with autism. Hole’s lead singer said she was mildly autistic, and even though she was pretty smart, she had difficulty fitting in socially at school and understanding schoolwork.
Actress Daryl Hannah has been upfront with her childhood Asperger’s diagnosis, which causes her to shy away from Hollywood’s scenes of large crowds and events.
Although there has been a change in attitude toward gender and autism, much work still remains. With more and more women coming forward with their autism diagnosis, it may not be much longer before researchers look at the prevalence of autism in the female gender.