In recent years there has been a growing discussion not only about mental health, but also about the multiple ways a human brain can function. One topic that comes up in these discussions is autism.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
According to the American Psychiatric Association, Autism Spectrum Disorder is “a complex developmental condition that presents persistent challenges in social interaction, language, and nonverbal communication, and restricted / repetitive behavior. The effects of ASA and the severity of the symptoms are different for each person. “
ASA is typically diagnosed in young children and is typically more suspected in men than women. That may be true, but there are also an increasing number of cis women and AFAB (assigned women at birth) diagnosed as adults.
Autism is often pathologized or viewed as a disease or something negative. This is not the case for many people on the autism spectrum. Instead, they see it as something positive or neutral. It just means that your brain works differently than what most people think is “normal”. This is where the term “neuro-diverse” comes into play.
You may know the term Asperger’s as a form of “highly functional autism”. However, this term is no longer used. Now this set of neurodiverse features is simply referred to as ASD.
Many cases of ASD in women are overlooked because the signs are less obvious than in men. It is common knowledge that a lot of scientific studies generally only focus on men, which limits the information we have about women’s health. This extends to psychiatric and neurological studies.
Autism Differences in Women
Because autism is so misunderstood in women, they are often years undiagnosed or misdiagnosed like bipolar disorder.
This misdiagnosis leads many women to take medication that does not help them and leaves them feeling frustrated and helpless.
Many of these women have always felt different, had the feeling that they had to work particularly hard in social situations, or avoided them altogether. They may be used to hiding their characteristics and not conform to the general stereotype of what people think autism looks like.
Because of societal expectations for girls and women, teenage girls with autism may have worked extra hard to adjust and be seen as normal, which complicates diagnosis. Growing up they may have chosen solitude and focused on their hobbies, placed comfort over fashion, fantasies or an escape from reality, were mute in certain situations and had a special interest or a special talent for certain topics.
Autism: What Signs To Look For
If you think you may be autistic, or love someone who it is, here are some signs to look out for:
- Difficulty making or maintaining friendships or romantic relationships
- Intense focus
- Excellent performance in specific areas or subjects, such as music
- Comorbidity of Depression, Anxiety, and PTSD
- Social anxiety, connection difficulties, being alone
- Mood swings and irritability
- Be submissive in social situations
- Depression and sadness
- Fatigue or exhaustion easily
- Stress or fear of changing the routine change
- Sensitivity to clothing, food, textures, noise, etc.
- Difficulty reading social cues
- “Camouflage strategies,” also known as mirroring or mimicking social behaviors, in order to adapt
- Difficulty maintaining social etiquette and expectations
- Being bullied at school
- Avoidance or exhaustion from social situations
- Difficulty picking up non-verbal cues
- Nervous or insecure about physical intimacy, although the desire may be there
- Take language very literally (i.e. don’t use sarcasm, nuanced language)
- Flat or expressionless face and voice or smiling intentionally, changing tone of voice, and other non-verbal forms of communication
Discussing autism helps people understand how diverse the spectrum of autism can be and that you probably know more people who fall for it than you realize.
Awareness of autism helps break the stigma of neurodiversity so that we can live in a more conscious and understanding world.
Many people who were bullied or had certain problems growing up were diagnosed with autism later as adults. Imagine how different their lives would have been if not only had they been diagnosed earlier, but grew up in a world where people understood autism spectrum disorders.
It’s not just about normalizing those conversations, it’s also creating opportunities for autistic people. Awareness and diagnosis give autistic people the opportunity to access the tools and resources they need to not only navigate the world but thrive too.
These tools can include daily task reminders and organizational systems, clear routines, asking for help, peer support groups, self-care and relaxation strategies, social skills-building activities, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Despite the negative connotations and stigma, autism can be a beautiful gift and give people a unique lens through which to see the world. People are all different, we all have our quirks, and we all need help at times to figure out how to navigate the world and which tools are most helpful to us as individuals.