6 Ways Autism Presents Itself in FemalesC. Dixon
It’s common knowledge that diagnosis rates for autism are lower in females than in males — but there are still plenty of females on the spectrum, and likely more than we think. The reason they slip through the cracks may be because they present symptoms differently than males, relying on a variety of methods to “mask” their symptoms.
Daniel M. Jones explores this issue in depth in a YouTube video titled “AUTISM In Girls: KNOW These SYMPTOMS” from his YouTube series The Aspie World. He has Asperger Syndrome, ADHD, OCD, and dyslexia, and he freely shares his experiences and thoughts with his viewers.
The often-mentioned statistic that four times as many males have ASD as females is a harmful one, as it allows girls with the disorder to be overlooked. The origin of this disparity in diagnosis rates stems from two separate papers written in the 1940s by the first two scientists to study autism: Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger.
In 1943, Leo Kanner conducted the first-ever clinical study of children who displayed autistic traits. The study was quite small and included only three girls and eight boys. Nevertheless, his article made medical history, as it proclaimed a brand-new psychiatric condition Kanner dubbed “infantile autism.” Symptoms of this condition included lacking the social instinct to interact with others, having an often obsessive desire to focus on particular objects, and having a “need for sameness” or a “resistance to (unexpected) change.”
That small ratio of autistic girls to autistic boys set the tone for research on autism for decades to come.
Hans Asperger was studying autism at the same time as Kanner, only in Vienna. He observed four boys (no girls at all) and coined the term “autistic psycopathy” to describe their behavior, which included “a lack of empathy, little ability to form friendships, one-sided conversation, intense absorption in a special interest, and clumsy movements.” By all accounts, he had a much more positive view of autism than Kanner, calling those he observed “little professors” and confidently predicting that his young subjects would flourish within their special areas of interest as adults.
Asperger originally posited that girls and women could not have Asperger’s at all, though he later retracted that statement.
Those two initial studies have had a lasting impact on ideas about autism, for better or worse. While diagnosis rates for boys remain much higher than that for girls, it’s becoming increasingly clear among professionals and autism families alike that females with ASD are going undiagnosed, as they are able to “mask” or “cover” their symptoms in ways that boys don’t often do.
There are several ways females with ASD are able to do this.
#1: Relying on other people to talk for them
The first method females with ASD use is relying on other people to talk for them. In childhood, an autistic female may rely on friends, siblings, or other family members to get what they need, like a juice box. By using this small social network to establish preferences and wants early on, the child has their needs met without much effort, and without bringing attention to their communication skills or anxieties.
“The male would just miss out on having the juice box,” Dan says. “Or maybe go into a meltdown because they wanted the juice box but couldn’t relay that information or were too anxious to ask for it.”
As adults, female aspies have the added benefit of technology and the internet to help them — whether that’s ordering items online rather than going to a store, or communicating via text, email, or social media rather than in person.
Click “NEXT” to learn about two symptoms that piggyback off of each other.