Why is autism in women so overlooked? | Lara Ahmed

July 22, 2021
Lara Ahmed

Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological disorder with characteristics that present in various ways such as sensory overload, different speech patterns, and strict preference for routine. It also presents with positive traits such as great visual skills and ability to see connections. It is not an illness, but because autistic people’s brains work differently than non-autistic people they experience discrimination for not fitting in with social norms.  

Autistic people find that it affects both non-verbal and verbal communication in daily life.  It is often associated with children because traits are often first seen in toddlers under the age of three.  This has led to the misconception that adults “grow out’ of autism, but that is completely false. Another myth is that only young boys have autism, but many girls and women can also be autistic.

Why do girls with autism go undiagnosed? 

Lack of research is one of the main reasons girls and women are not as often diagnosed. Even now autistic women and girls are often not included in surveys, studies, and research projects. Girls and women are also more likely to try and hide their symptoms from a young age. 

 Society typically expects girls to be polite and quiet, so from a young age autistic females might try and suppress their traits in public. Hypersensitivity to loud sounds or excessive information is a common autistic trait, but young girls are more likely to keep their feelings to themselves. 

Another issue is that many medical professionals are still biased. Even healthcare practitioners may unconsciously believe it is a male disorder. Some ADHD traits are also common in autism which is why it’s not uncommon to get misdiagnosed. 

Fast facts about autism in females

To date, the link between gender and autism is not precisely known. Though autism symptoms in men and women may not be inherently that different the way society responds to autism and gender is. 

1)   Myths and stereotypes: The belief that girls and women cannot have autism is an outdated and false belief. It is also part of the reason why many women do not even consider that they might be autistic. 

2)   Age of diagnosis: the average age for diagnosis in boys is three, but girls are diagnosed later at the age of four or older. However, autistic females are much more likely to only be diagnosed as adults. 

3)    Different social settings: young girls are more likely than boys to try and mask their symptoms in school to appear more “socially acceptable”, this may be why teachers do not always notice their autistic traits. 

4)  Link between autism and other disorders: Though anyone can have anxiety, depression, or an eating disorder, autistic women are at higher risk of suffering from these disorders. This is largely because autistic girls and women are often bullied for not fitting in.

5)   Limited representation in media:  Even now there is little representation of autistic people in media especially of autistic girls and women.

In Egypt, organizations such as The Egyptian Autistic Society are dedicated to raising awareness in the country. Women and girls should not be left out of conversations surrounding autism. The stigma is slowly getting better, but society should continue to strive towards inclusivity. 

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