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Understanding Autism Symptoms in Women and Girls

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Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that results from brain differences. Apart from some degree of difficulty with social interaction and communication, there is often nothing about their appearance that distinguishes them from others. Autism features in girls and women may not usually match those in boys and men because, unfortunately, the research that mostly supported these qualities was conducted on boys.  

Recognizing Autism in Women  

The lack of research and studies on women struggling with autism often hinders their way of seeking help and improving their overall well-being. Therefore, autism diagnosis in females can be significantly delayed, or they might go undiagnosed altogether. 

High-Functioning Autism: What It Looks Like in Females  

People with autism, in general, may behave differently or learn and engage in activities that are unusual to most other people. Sometimes, women with autism may learn how to hide or substitute for their autism in order to seem more normal and avoid stigma. 

The Challenge of Diagnosis in Women  

Women with undiagnosed autism grow up being confused about their feelings all the time. They may even find it more difficult to make friends and are often a target of bullies. This can cause them to feel inadequate and believe that they are flawed in some way for the rest of their lives. These experiences may further contribute to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PDST) later. 

What causes autism in females?  

The exact cause of autism in females remains unknown. Many researchers believe that the contributing factors to autism in females are a combination of genetic, environmental, and even hormonal factors. The exposure to their male and female hormones in the womb might have caused differences in brain development. However, further research is needed to understand the leading cause of autism in females since the impact of hormones on respective brain development isn’t fully explored. 

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Autism Symptoms in Girls  

Throughout the school day, some girls might rely on other kids to speak for them, talk only about the subjects they find interesting, have difficulty making friends, are very sensitive to sensory matters, have difficulty managing frustrations and emotions, act differently in the house and at school, and exhibit co-occurring mental health conditions.  

Early Signs and Symptoms  

Some early signs can be the inability to make eye contact or listen properly to people like others, not responding to their name when called, avoiding physical touch and being alone, little to no facial gestures, speech problems, having repetitive movement, gestures, or words, and extreme sensory sensitivity. Early intervention and support are crucial, so if you or your loved ones are experiencing any of these Autism symptoms in girls, seek mental health professional help.  

Common Symptoms in Adult Women  

Symptoms can vary case by case, but some common symptoms in adult women with autism are 

Communication symptoms: They often have difficulties in making friends or maintaining social relationships, challenging to make eye contact, prefer being alone, inability to start a conversation or keep it going, intense discussions about a favourite subject without considering the emotions of others, unusual speech patterns, difficulties in expressing themselves and recognising other people's emotions, and unable to follow simple direction. 

Behavioral symptoms: They tend to repeat movements or words, are extremely detail-oriented, particularly with their food, develop inflexible routines, have sensory intolerance, and have self-harming behaviors.  

How are the symptoms different in females?  

Autistic symptoms are mostly similar, but researchers suggest that adult females and girls are more inclined to conceal their symptoms. Some of the most common forms of masking their symptoms include compelling oneself to maintain eye contact while conversing, preplanning jokes or phrases for conversation, imitating the social behaviors of others, and copying facial expressions and gestures. 

Social Challenges and Strengths  

Autistic women may face some challenges in social interaction and communication. They may have trouble reading body language, gestures, facial expressions, and touch, which are examples of nonverbal clues. It’s also typical for them to struggle with establishing eye contact and starting or continuing conversations. These social challenges often isolate them further.  

Sensory Sensitivities and Coping Strategies  

The sensitivity level towards sensory stimuli is very different for autistic women. They sense hypersensitivity (over-responsiveness) and hyposensitivity (under-responsiveness) towards all sensory stimuli, such as noise, touch, smell, light, and taste. It is also crucial to understand that autistic women may learn coping mechanisms that hide these difficulties, making it more difficult to recognize their struggles.

Why Autistic Girls Go Undiagnosed?  

Autistic girls go undiagnosed due to several factors because their traits can differ from the typical symptoms. Subtle social struggles and masking behaviors can hide difficulties. Cultural expectations play a significant role as well, with girls expected to behave in quieter and more passive manners than boys. A typical “girly” trait like shyness might not raise a concern. Even professionals may miss it, as diagnostic tools were historically based on boys’ presentations. This lack of recognition can delay important support for autistic girls until much later in life.  

The Importance of Early Recognition and Support  

One of the best approaches to treating autism is early detection. Developmental therapies in early intervention can work effectively to improve their overall well-being. Progress in treatment for autistic women varies greatly. Individuals may or may not continue with the same therapeutic approaches.   

Navigating Healthcare and Educational Support  

For autistic women and girls in India, resources are available to enhance diagnosis and offer therapeutic alternatives. However, identification may be challenging due to a lack of awareness and preconceptions influenced by culture. The field of education is evolving, and some schools now even provide Individualised Education Plans (IEPs).  

Strategies for Parents and Caregivers  

Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in fulfilling the needs of autistic females effectively. Learn about the distinct experiences that females with autism have. Please find healthcare professionals who specialize in providing care for women with autism spectrum disorder. Encourage your daughter to talk to you honestly about her preferences and difficulties. Honor her uniqueness and strengths and connect with other parents and autistic women for support and shared experiences. 

Is there a test for autism in females?  

There is currently no diagnostic tool available for autism in females. An autism diagnosis requires a long-term examination of your symptoms; it cannot be diagnosed through medical tests like blood or urine analysis. A child psychologist or pediatric neurologist may employ various screening tests, such as the Autism Diagnostic Observations Schedule (ADOS), Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), Gilliam Autism Rating Scale (GARS), and Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI) if your child exhibits developmental delays.  

Empowering Women and Girls with Autism with Cadabams  

Many studies suggest that autism is more common in males. However, this may be partly due to underdiagnosis in females, who may be better at masking their autistic symptoms. Further research is needed to elucidate the specific mechanisms underlying autism in females and to improve diagnostic and therapeutic approaches tailored to their needs. 

For autistic girls, navigating healthcare and education can be a complex journey. Finding healthcare providers familiar with the diverse presentations of autism in females is key. Cadabams Hospital, with more than 30 years of experience, provides different therapies by experts, like behavioral and family therapy, education therapy, occupational therapy, and medication to treat autism, all under holistic care. 

If you are searching for a solution to your problem, Cadabam’s Rehabilitation Centre can help you with its team of specialized experts. We have been helping thousands of people live healthier and happier lives for 30+ years. We leverage evidence-based approaches and holistic treatment methods to help individuals effectively manage their Autism. Get in touch with us today. You can call us at +91 96111 94949.

Book screening with our director of triage,  Kamlesh Verma
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1. What are the main symptoms of autism in women?  

Autistic women might exhibit repeating their movements or words continuously, be overly sensitive to lights, sounds, touch, and taste, have difficulty making friends, not be able to carry the conversation forward, be very good at finding subtle differences, love being alone, and have difficulty catching social cues.  

2. Can women be diagnosed with autism? 

Autism isn’t gender-based. It can happen to anyone. Most are diagnosed at an early age, but diagnosing autism in adulthood can be difficult, especially in females. Since women are better at masking their symptoms, they are often undiagnosed. Many cultures associate several autistic traits with a categorically “famine” character and ignore them.   

3. How do you treat autism in girls?  

There is no cure for autism in general, but many resources are available to help autistic people manage their Autism Symptoms in Girls. Treatments are similar for both males and females. Treatment can be psychotherapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or medication like antipsychotics and antidepressants. A mental health professional might use one or both, depending on your symptom's severity.  

4. How does autism present differently in females?  

While the core symptoms of autism are similar for both sexes, the severity and presentation can differ. Females with autism may exhibit fewer social difficulties because they tend to be better at camouflaging their symptoms. Both autistic males and females may prefer being alone, but autistic females might still try to be around others sometimes, while autistic males may completely isolate themselves with no social interaction. 

5. How does a girl get diagnosed with autism?  

Missed diagnoses or underdiagnoses are common for girls and women with autism because symptoms may present differently in them. The concerned medical professional might ask for a clinical history to examine your behaviors properly, followed by thorough screening and assessments of your symptoms to tailor a treatment plan for you. 

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