Autism in Adults and the Female Autism Phenotype

Autism in Adults and the Female Autism Phenotype

How Diagnosis of Autism in Adulthood can lead to self-acceptance, understanding, and hope for the future

More and more individuals are obtaining a diagnosis of autism in adulthood. Often this is because their symptoms were less obvious and impairing in childhood, and did not raise the concerns of parents and teachers. Many individuals find ways to cope and “mask” their autistic traits so that it is not obvious to others around them. They may be productive, high functioning members of society, but feel that they are somehow “different” in the way they think and act. On the other hand, they may have found it hard to hold down a job or perform roles that other people seem to do naturally. Due to improved knowledge and understanding of autism and the nuances in the way it presents, a number of adults are now being diagnosed. 

You may have heard or read about autism, and personally resonated with the experiences and symptoms described. It is often validating to have an explanation for your differences and struggles, and feel like you are not alone.

Signs of autism impact three main areas:

  • Social interactions
  • Verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Repetitive or ritualistic behaviors

More specifically, symptoms may include (but are not limited to): 

  • Difficulty interpreting other’s emotions and how they are thinking or feeling
  • Trouble understanding facial expressions, body language, or social cues
  • Difficulty controlling emotions
  • Trouble maintaining conversations and engaging in “small talk” 
  • Anxiety in social situations
  • Tendency to have “sensory overload” in busy or loud environments
  • Difficulty with back and forth conversation; may talk excessively about a favorite subject
  • Tendency to have repetitive or routine behaviours 
  • May have certain “rules” they need to abide to 
  • Only participates in a select range of activities 
  • Exhibiting strong, special interests

Females on the Autism Spectrum:

Females with autism, in particular, have a much higher rate of being misdiagnosed with another mental condition or being overlooked or dismissed by health professionals. They often don’t show the “classic” autism characteristics that are most often associated with an autism diagnosis.

Thankfully, there is greater awareness and research to improve this problem, and more females are being recognised than ever before.
Compared to males, females often have more subtle symptoms. It is also recognised that girls are socialised to be empathetic and compliant, which may lead to masking their behaviours in order to fit in. Social camouflage also refers to the tendency for autistic people to mimic others and learn strategies to disguise autism traits. However, this can result in low self-esteem and feelings of shame due to not being able to express their true identity.

Knowing that there is nothing “wrong” with you can lead to self acceptance and the ability to celebrate, rather than suppress, your unique identity. 

 

Extra information for adults consideration an autism diagnosis:
What does Autism Spectrum Disorder look like in Adults?
Supports and Services for Adults
Transitioning to Adulthood: Supports for Autism
Girls with Autism: Hiding in Plain Sight
Challenges of Living with High Functioning Autism