Obviously this whole blog so far has been about Autism in females in a sense, as I am female but I believe it is important to understand and accept how different autism can present when you are female, or even higher functioning if that’s what you want to call it.
Even though autism is more widely accepted or understood now than what it ever has been before there still seems to be missing or fear in diagnosis in those who don’t scream autism just by looking at them. For those whose signs are less obvious or are better at masking certain aspects. There seems to be a fear within society that suggesting a child or adult may need support when the condition isn’t clear to diagnosis will cause more issues, or upset to the person and the families. As a person who was not diagnosed until adult hood I can assure that although there may be some resistance, denial or anger to begin with in the long run that early intervention is much more important than worrying about what a diagnosis may be or what the families may think or how they may act. It should be easier for these discussions to happen without nurseries, family members or professionals worrying about. I believe that this comes down to peoples understanding and knowledge especially when I comes to conditions such as autism.
Lack of knowledge on the different ways which autism can present itself often make it difficult for people to see or acknowledge some of the signs and can often lead to misunderstanding, thinking someone is merely withdrawn, have behavioural issues etc. I believe this is seen much more with females. More education needs to be given on how autism can present itself within females and the importance of noticing these early signs to allow for the early intervention which will allow support needed to be given, to prevent them growing up in a world where they do not feel understood like I have. To me this isn’t even about the importance of having an actual diagnosis, at the end of the day a diagnosis although an important thing for me, for many is just a word. It is more about the support and understanding for that person than the title of a diagnosis. Therefore even if you do not want to make the call on an autism diagnosis it is important that support is still in place. Ignoring the issue will not make it go away and will not make it any easier for the person to learn, progress, and feel accepted in this crazy world.
I began this as a way of expressing myself but would love to be able to use my experiences and my knowledge to help educate others on how autism presents in females. The lack of knowledge and information in regards to autism in the female population amongst professionals means that many have and will continue to slip through the cracks. I would love to go into schools and nurseries to help promote this understanding and to support families with noticing signs.
I think one of the most important things to remember is that girls will often mask signs and symptoms and are much more adept at imitating others, especially within social situations. As this social aspect is such a huge aspect of an autism diagnosis, it can therefore be more difficult to see the struggles females have in social situations. Girls often want to be more social and therefore understand the benefits of social interactions and often mimic behaviour of the people closest to them. This doesn’t take away the difficulties they have and how understanding different social cues is still a battle. This often results in signs of anxiety and/or depression and with a diagnosis relating to this or personality disorders being given. This was certainly the case for me and then I felt like a failure when none of the medication, treatments or therapies worked for me.
Other signs include:
- The obsessive and immersive nature I have discussed before, from a young age this can present as obsessions, collections and organisations over toys as well as characters.
- Toys being friends. Having relationships with cuddly toys for example. Talking with them, creating little worlds and repeating and playing these games over and over.
- Many people assume that people with autism have a lack of imagination due to the rationality of the way their brain works. This isn’t the case at all. Especially in females on the spectrum. In fact it often can be the case that their imagination is ‘too much’. They become a character for an extended period of time, staying within this role all day at times. Girls will often have a very active imagination, loving mystical and magical books and characters. They may also have imaginary friends. For me I would talk about my ‘family’ and ‘children’ that I had from my imaginary games. I could talk about these as if they were real.
- It is not always the case that we don’t like physical touch (although this is often true at times.) Sometimes the sensory issues can mean that we seek tight hugs, can be needy in being close to others, often not respecting boundaries and for example standing too close.
- High functioning girls often immerse themselves in books and reading. For me this was due to these worlds being easier to navigate, expected to be immersive. I especially love books that come as a series so I can become part of their world, or fanfiction about characters I am obsessive over.
- Females can be very emotional. They often have great empathy but lack the ability to deal with all these emotions.
- Finally, we can be social. Especially due to the ability to mimic behaviours but following this may isolate and need a lot of time alone. Sometimes I just need me time, even if I feel lonely. I can want someone to be with me but need them just to be there and let me be myself, not too close to me, not talking to me too much, just being around.
I hope that some of this gives a greater understanding. I think it is important that we prevent as many females slipping through the cracks as possible. No, it may not seem as bad as how others on the spectrum but it doesn’t take away the struggles that we do have. In fact people have a higher expectation on you to be ‘normal’ respond like neurotypicals do and people tend to have a lack of empathy towards our feelings and reactions during situations. This needs to change. Do not take away the difficulties that I have just because I do not look ‘autistic’. I can assure you I am!