Autism Spectrum Disorder in Women

Autism and ADHD Assessments

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Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can manifest differently across individuals and between genders. For a long time, autism has been predominantly associated with males, but awareness about how the condition presents in females is growing. Diagnostic criteria have often been biased towards male-typical symptoms, making it more difficult to diagnose females. Here are some aspects of autism as it may present in females.

Social Interaction

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Social interaction in females with autism spectrum disorder can often be complex due to their ability to "mask" or camouflage their symptoms. This masking behavior is understood as the ability to mimic neurotypical behaviours to blend in and hide social difficulties. While this may make them appear socially competent on the surface, it is often an exhausting and conscious effort that may not necessarily indicate ease in social understanding or engagement. Females with ASD may express a strong desire for friendships and social interaction but may face challenges in navigating the nuances of such behaviour, such as reading social cues, interpreting facial expressions or understanding sarcasm and idioms. Because these challenges in social interactions can be subtle and masked, they are often misunderstood or misdiagnosed, sometimes leading to a delayed or missed diagnosis of ASD.



Communication patterns also tend to differ between females with ASD and their male counterparts. Females may have more advanced verbal skills, including a broad vocabulary and better articulation, which could mislead diagnosticians into thinking their social communication skills are typical. However, the challenges often lie in the pragmatics of language, or the social aspects of communication. Females with ASD might find it difficult to understand the context in which certain phrases are used, recognise and interpret tone of voice, or grasp idiomatic expressions and humor. This can make even basic conversations stressful and challenging, as they may take statements literally or miss the underlying emotional tones.

Despite these challenges in social interaction and communication, it's important to note that many females with ASD develop coping strategies to manage their symptoms. For example, they may rely on scripted phrases or behaviours during social interactions to ease the stress of impromptu communication. These coping mechanisms, while adaptive in some settings, may also contribute to the challenges in diagnosing females with ASD, as they can make the symptoms less obvious to parents, teachers and even medical professionals. As awareness grows about how ASD manifests in females, it is crucial for diagnostic criteria and treatment approaches to evolve to capture and address these nuanced patterns.

Autism and ADHD Assessments works with experienced, female clinical psychologists worldwide with an interest in female autism. Historically, autism has been underdiagnosed in females. As outlined above, this may be because women have sensibly learned to compensate or cope with behaviours typically associated with autism and developed strategies to match expectations as part of socialisation. Autism and ADHD Assessments is using psychological tests designed to identify female autism which in turn facilitates access to resources and support systems.

Repetitive behaviours


Repetitive behaviours, a core symptom of autism spectrum disorder, can manifest differently in females compared to males. While males with ASD might exhibit more overt repetitive behaviours like hand-flapping or fixations on mechanical objects, females often engage in less noticeable forms of repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. For example, their focused interests might be centered around "socially acceptable" or mainstream topics such as animals, literature, or celebrities. These interests could be pursued with the same intensity and narrow focus that males might apply to topics like train schedules or mathematics, but because the topics are more socially conventional, they may not raise immediate concerns.

Another interesting aspect is that the restricted interests in females with ASD may sometimes have a social character. For example, a young girl might obsessively collect information about a particular book series but may focus intensely on the relationships between characters rather than the factual details of the series. The social nature of these interests can sometimes make them less detectable as symptoms of ASD, especially to parents or educators less familiar with the condition.

It is also worth noting that females with ASD may engage in "internal" repetitive behaviors such as rumination or having complex imaginary worlds, which can be less visible but just as absorbing and time-consuming as more overt repetitive behaviors. Like masking behaviors in social interactions, these more subtle or socially-acceptable forms of repetitive behaviors and interests can make diagnosis and treatment more challenging in females with ASD. Due to these nuanced manifestations, clinicians and caregivers need to be attuned to a broader range of behaviours and interests when considering the diagnosis and support of females on the autism spectrum.



Lai, M. C., Lombardo, M. V., Pasco, G., Ruigrok, A. N., Wheelwright, S. J., Sadek, S. A., ... & Baron-Cohen, S. (2011). A behavioral comparison of male and female adults with high functioning autism spectrum conditions. PloS one, 6(6), e20835.

Dean, M., Harwood, R., & Kasari, C. (2017). The art of camouflage: Gender differences in the social behaviors of girls and boys with autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 21(6), 678-689.

Rivet, T. T., & Matson, J. L. (2011). Review of gender differences in core symptomatology in autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5(3), 957-976.

Solomon, M., Miller, M., Taylor, S. L., Hinshaw, S. P., & Carter, C. S. (2012). Autism symptoms and internalizing psychopathology in girls and boys with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(1), 48-59.

Simonoff, E., Pickles, A., Charman, T., Chandler, S., Loucas, T., & Baird, G. (2008). Psychiatric disorders in children with autism spectrum disorders: prevalence, comorbidity, and associated factors in a population-derived sample. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 47(8), 921-929.

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