About 1 in 252 females in the United States is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. With the rate for male diagnosis being 1 in 54, too often females are misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. Females may present with different signs of autism or appear to cope well enough that they may be appear “quirky” or “weird”, not what people think of as somebody on the autism spectrum acting like. Others may be misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, or ADHD. When studying Asperger’s Syndrome, Hans Asperger only studied males, so the criteria he developed may not fit females exactly. Rudy Simone points out females with Asperger’s tend to be better at mirroring/imitating others, more prone to emotional outbursts and meltdowns, have more “practical” obesessions/interests, and more expressive in both physical gestures and facial expressions than their male counterparts.
The set of challenges facing females may be different than those facing males as well, with women being expected to be more socially adapt and additional safety concerns. The idea of social cliques in school, work, and personal relationships can be baffling to females on the spectrum, making proper diagnosis and help with social skills important to reduce bullying. Females on the spectrum may also not follow expectations with dress or social customs in some circles that may affect their ability to fit in, even if they do have the desire to. Not all females on the spectrum feel it’s needed to try to fit in.
Safety issues may come up for females on the autism spectrum in dating and daily life, with both the poor social understanding and heightened anxiety levels. Women on the spectrum may not pick up on subtle cues of harmful intentions of a stranger, putting them at increased risk of assault. Others may have difficulty reconizing an abusive relationship. The increased anxiety levels can present a danger to overall mental health.
Over the past few years, more resources have been released to help females with Asperger’s Syndrome and autism, with many being produced by individuals on the spectrum. These include a variety of websites, books, and blogs; some simply serving as places to express the unique perspective they have on the world while others offer practical advice. Many talk about their experiences with work, motherhood, and daily life. A few recommendations follow:
- “Safety Skills for Asperger Women” by Liane Holliday Willey
- “Aspergirls: Empowering Females with Autism” by Rudy Simone
- “Girls Growing Up on the Autism Spectrum: What Parents and Professionals Should Know About the Pre-Teen and Teenage Years” by Shana Nichols
- “Parenting Girls on the Autism Spectrum: Overcoming the Challenges and Celebrating the Gifts” by Eileen Riley-Hall
Blogs by women on the autism spectrum:
- Gretchen Leary, writer and poet
- Aspergers and My Special Interests by Jonquil Lee
- Cutest Kid Ever -Mommy blog by a mother with Asperger’s parenting a son with Asperger’s
- Celebration Generation: Food..Life..Kitties
Online resourcs and information:
- Autism Women’s Network
- Women and girls on the autism spectrum by the National Autistic Society
- Asperger Women Association
- Girls with Autism