Updated: Dec 1, 2022
By Erica Carvalho
Reading time 5 minutes ⏰
Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition that results in social and communication impairments occurring concurrently with restricted interests and repetitive behaviours. Autism is one of the most common neurodevelopmental conditions; occurring in 0.6% to 1.57% of the general population Men are four times more likely to be diagnosed with Autism. This may be due the the fact that men and women present different signs and symptoms of Autism. It had also been noted that women are better than men at masking their difficulties . Many studies on Autism have had little to no female participants which makes the assessment of how Autism presents itself in females difficult. Co-occurring psychiatric conditions are also common in adult women with Autism with anxiety and depression being the most commonly diagnosed conditions. Obsessive compulsive trains are a common occurrence in those with Autism and so are another commonly diagnosed psychiatric condition diagnosed with Autism. A 2011 study on adults with Autism by Lai et al, evaluated men and women who were deemed to be “equally autistic” in childhood and found that women perform better in adult years socially and communicatively this is believed to be due women being more motivated to developing skills to compensate for their Autism symptoms to help the to appear more neurotypical . Overall, it is commonly believed that due to lack of studies containing female participants and women's ability to camouflage their symptoms by observational learning, and following social cues women with Autism go undiagnosed or wrongly diagnosed often. This is further exacerbated by the presence of other co-occurring psychiatric conditions which may be diagnosed and treated prior to a woman being diagnosed with Autism.
Women present symptoms of Autism in different ways than men which does not always meet the diagnostic criteria for Autism. Recently there has been an increase in the number of adults being diagnosed with Autism; which is typically diagnosed in childhood. There is no reliable biological markers of Autism and so it is typically diagnosed by observation and the description of behaviours impacting ones daily function . The current diagnostic procedure for Autism uses behavioural markers to diagnose Autism; the criteria for these behavioural markers was developed based on a male population and how Autism presents itself in males who have previously identified as having Autism. Females may be less likely to show the same behavioural markers as males and may not meet the criteria typically used to diagnose Autism which in many cases results in the receiving and alternative diagnoses. Many females seek out a diagnosis of Autism in their adult years after having lives with the symptoms of Autism for much of their lives these symptoms include difficulties with social relationships, restricted interests, internalizations of problems, and camouflaging . Another common risk factor for adults with an Autism diagnosis is the risk of mental health difficulties. It has been suggested that up to 84% of adults with Autism also co-currently suffer from another diagnosable mental disorder. Women with Autism also are predisposed to a higher risk of developing epilepsy in their teens and into their adult lives. Approximately 11% to 39% of those with Autism also co-currently have epilepsy with most of those being females
Treatment for adult females with Autism can be very difficulty; as reactions to medications can be very unpredictable and the benefit of behavioural therapies for adults living with Autism and significant mental health difficulties has not full been studied and so the potential benefits have not been fully assessed . Supporting autistic individuals entails understanding how social interaction and environmental circumstances influence those with autism spectrum disorders. It also entails adapting communication techniques and physical environments to better meet each person's specific requirements.
Many adult women with Autism are able to live normal lives and many are able to live on their own and care for themselves. It is believed that many women who went undiagnosed in their childhood are today unknowingly living with Autism. Autism encompasses many different levels of neurodiversity and different individuals may present different symptoms of Autism which can be managed in different way. The un-stigmatization of Autism is needed to ensure that more women who are living with Autism are able and willing to seek out the diagnoses which they may have been living with for many years.
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