Women with autism tend to present differently than men, a fact which has often led to misdiagnosis and under-diagnosis. As a result, women who have autism and don’t receive a diagnosis tend to judge themselves harshly for finding life difficult.
Any woman who has reached the point of wondering whether or not she has autism may find it hard to find definitive information, given the fact that autism has predominantly been viewed as a male label. If she’s experiencing many of these symptoms, however, it might point towards a diagnosis of autism.
1. Social difficulties. One of the main reasons women begin to wonder whether they have autism is a lifetime of social difficulties. Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder, which means that people are born with autism (although it may not be obvious until later in life).
2. Sensory sensitivity. People with autism experience the world in a different way than neurotypical people, and many women with autism experience intense sensory sensitivity. They may have a heightened sense of awareness when it comes to smells, light, sounds, and touch.
3. Executive function. Women with autism experience problems with executive function, a set of skills that involves working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. People with executive function problems might find it hard to organize themselves, finish tasks, and maintain emotional control. Whether in the workplace or at home, it can be hard for women to complete tasks such as completing tasks at work which are deemed less interesting, keeping a clean house, maintaining healthy habits, or carrying out daily tasks such as showering and eating breakfast.
4. Obsessive interests. Both men and women with autism tend to have specialized, intense interests. People with autism display “what if-then” thinking and often want to get to the bottom of how something works. They may want to know every single fact about their interest.
5. Camouflaging. Autistic women tend to have a greater desire to be sociable than autistic men and spend a considerable amount of time and energy in masking, or camouflaging, their differences to pass as “normal.” Although neurotypicals of both genders and autistic men also camouflage, women with autism tend to do so to a far higher degree.
6. Sleep issues. Many women with autism experience difficulty with sleep. Often, this is caused by sensory issues, including a sensitivity to noise at night and problems feeling comfortable. The presence of another person can exacerbate sleep issues.
7. Difficulties with eye contact. Making eye contact can be extremely challenging for people with autism. Women, in particular, often become skilled at forcing themselves to make eye contact; if they do this enough, it may start to feel more natural to them. Thus, a woman with autism may be OK at making eye contact because she’s learned to so—but if it feels unnatural or hard, it could potentially be a sign of autism.
8. Emotional regulation issues. Women with autism may find it hard to rationalize situations and stay in control. Many describe having meltdowns: extreme emotional reactions to situations that might result in losing their temper, crying, or going into shutdown mode.
9. Stimming. Stimming (short for self-stimulating behaviors) refers to repetitive behaviors. The most obvious behaviors we associate with autism are rocking, hand flapping, repetition of words or phrases, and rocking or spinning. However, women with autism may display other stimming behaviors such as skin picking, feet rubbing, pacing, or hair twirling. People with autism tend to stim more than other people and may not be aware of their behaviors. It is thought that stimming is a self-regulation tool.
10. Anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression are not universal symptoms of autism. But because life is difficult for many women with autism, it is common for them to experience mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Though their autism goes undiagnosed, it is more likely that they will receive a formal diagnosis for anxiety, depression, or another mental health issue.