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Are autism symptoms different in men and women?

Are autism symptoms different in men and women?

There is a well-known saying, ‘you meet one person with autism, you meet one person with autism’. Like neurotypicals, children and adults with autism can be very different. However, a lot of autistic people share similar traits. Yesteryear, it was often thought that predominantly males were autistic, however, we now know that this isn’t necessarily the case as studies show that autistic females often ‘mask’ their autistic behaviours and traits. This means that often girls with autism can suffer from stress and anxiety as a result of trying to ‘fit in’. It also means that lots of autistic females are not diagnosed until adulthood because their autism is often missed during their childhood.

So, what are the key differences in autistic men and women?

  • Autistic women appear to be more social and cope better in social situations.
  • Autistic women often seem shy and are quiet, hiding their feelings.
  • Autistic women are great at ‘masking’ their autistic traits and copying others.
  • Autistic women tend to display less repetitive behaviours.

Why do women tend to hide their Autistic traits?

Autistic women often appear to be more sociable due to a determination to fit in with societal norms and with their friendship groups. Although some autistic females may struggle to maintain friendships, many learn to hide their autistic traits by mimicking neurotypical friends. They may appear quieter and shy as a result of this, appearing to cope better in social situations. Of course, this can lead to mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. Masking can be exhausting and overwhelming.

Like many autistic men, women with autism may have intense interests and be fixated on certain items or topics, however, autistic women can mask their intense interests so that they appear less fixated and more ‘normal’. Their interests are more likely to be in line with peers, for example, following bands, celebrities and the latest toy. This means that it is easier for these interests to be unnoticed, even though they may be fixated. For example, lots of young girls appear obsessed with boy bands and have posters on their walls.

Similarly, autistic women are good at adapting repetitive behaviours and masking them, such as stimming. Whilst an autistic male might rock and back and forth and be obviously stimming to those around him, an autistic female might ‘twirl’ their hair repeatedly.

It can be harder to diagnose Autism in women

Because of the reasons listed above, it can be much harder to recognise and diagnose autism in women. However, masking symptoms can lead to mental health issues, so it is important that if you suspect that you are autistic or that your child is, you speak to a health professional for advice on how to seek diagnosis and support. We should all be able to live in a world where we are our authentic self. We are all unique and different and that is a beautiful thing.

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