Autism Spectrum Australia

Recognising women and girls on the autism spectrum is the first step towards their empowerment

  • Posted: Thu, 29/03/2018 - 4:33pm

Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) is calling for a greater understanding of women and girls on the autism spectrum this World Autism Awareness Day, Monday 2 April, arguing that if we can’t first recognise the characteristics of autism in women and girls we may be doing them a disservice.

“This World Autism Awareness Day is about empowering women and girls on the autism spectrum,” Aspect CEO, Adrian Ford, said, “And what better way to do that than by recognising the different ways in which autism can present in females.

“First recognised by the medical establishment in the 1950s, autism has traditionally been thought of as a mainly male condition. 

“It is estimated that around one in every 68 people is on the spectrum – of which around a quarter are estimated to be women or girls.

“However the most recent research is challenging this assumption,he said.

“The common thinking among autism researchers now is that many women and girls on the spectrum may go undiagnosed because they are better at ‘masking’ the traditional traits of autism or because the traditional focus on males has led to tests that are skewed towards identifying males on the spectrum.”

Mr Ford went on to say that those at the front line of diagnosing autism were now faced with the distinct possibility that autism can manifest differently in females and that traditional methods of diagnosis have not been able to identify all the women and girls on the spectrum.

“For instance females with autism are more likely to be misdiagnosed with conditions such as anxiety, avoidant personality disorder and eating disorders.

“Males and females on the autism spectrum seem to have similar issues in social behaviour. However, there are some notable differences, for instance girls on the autism spectrum may:

  • show more interest in social relationships than boys
  • show more imaginative play than boys and involve ‘pretend play’ where they imitate or repeat play or social situations they have previously encountered
  • appear more able to demonstrate complex emotions than boys; and
  • show less restricted interests and behaviours than boys. However, the intense special interests often found in girls on the autism spectrum (such as animals, celebrities and fiction franchises) tend to more closely align with the ‘mainstream’ than the corresponding interests of boys on the autism spectrum

“The important thing is that studies show that once a diagnosis of autism has been established, the practices and solutions used to best support a person on the spectrum works equally well with both sexes – the key is recognising the characteristics of autism in the first instance.”

One Aspect client, Alexandra Robinson, who was first diagnosed with autism in 2010, says the diagnosis was like a breath of fresh air, giving her a renewed approach to life.

“For years I think I struggled with who I was, and even though I might have presented as okay to a lot of people, I was really struggling on the inside.

“Being diagnosed with autism was like having a weight lifted off my shoulders.  It really helped me to better understand myself and why I felt like I did,” she said.

Now a strong advocate for women on the autism spectrum, Ms Robinson says that while it can take a lot of courage to accept a diagnosis, being brave enough to do so can open up a new world of possibilities. 

“A diagnosis of autism has helped me to be more accepting of myself and more authentic with people, and that has led to a happier, more independent and confident life,” Ms Robinson said.

You can watch a short video about Ms Robinson’s journey here.

For more information about women and girls on the spectrum visit - https://bit.ly/2IUtMBZ

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Recognising women and girls on the autism spectrum is the first step towards their empowerment