Understanding autism in girls and women – Doha News

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a health condition that can affect the way individuals behave, socialise and communicate. 

It is a condition that has a wide-ranging spectrum of symptoms and severity, so much so that it is said that no two people with ASD have the exact same symptoms. 

Symptoms usually surface in early childhood, typically before the age of 2 where children with ASD may begin to show signs of aggression, fail to respond to their name, or experience a decline in their language development.

Children and adults with autism usually have difficulty connecting with other people. This can result in a large range of symptoms including:

  • The inability to look at or listen to others
  • Preference to be alone
  • Resistance to touch
  • Lack of response to their name
  • No facial expressions or inappropriate ones
  • Inability to express or recognise emotions 
  • Difficulty following simple instructions
  • Inappropriate social interactions in the presence of others

People with autism also often have repetitive behaviour patterns, which can be increasingly difficult to break, such as:

  • Performing repetitive movements like rocking their bodies back and forth
  • Having specific routines that can’t be disrupted
  • Developing self-harming behaviours such as biting and head-banging
  • Fixating on specific objects or activities
  • Having very particular food preferences or specific aversions to certain food textures
  • Tend to become extremely fixated and fascinated with a particular subject, fact or detail

Whilst ASD is about four times more common in boys than it is in girls, findings from a study conducted in 2013 that involved approximately 2,500 participants with ASD, suggests that ASD often goes unnoticed (and therefore undiagnosed) in girls, which can explain why it appears to be less common. 

But why does ASD go undiagnosed in girls? What makes their symptoms different?

The symptoms of ASD in girls and women are not very different than those we see in boys and men. However, researchers have come to the conclusion that females are more likely to camouflage or hide their symptoms than their male counterparts, especially those who are at the high-functioning end of the spectrum.

Women, therefore, are more likely to force themselves to make eye contact during conversations and are more likely to prepare for conversations ahead of time by rehearsing certain phrases, reactions or jokes. 

Girls and women are also more likely to mimic the social behaviours and imitate facial expressions or gestures of those surrounding them.

It is important to note that the differences in behaviours between males and females with autism remains largely understudied and experts still haven’t arrived at any definitive information regarding these differences. Therefore, it remains unresolved whether these differences are real or just a result of camouflaging behaviours. 

As such, more longitudinal studies (observational studies that involve monitoring a certain population over an extended period of time) are needed in order to develop more solid conclusions about the differences in diagnoses between males and females with ASD. 

Given that females are more likely to mask their symptoms by camouflaging certain expressions, reactions, and behaviours, being a girl or woman with ASD can feel extremely lonely. Therefore, it is important that women and girls with ASD communicate and reach out to each other for emotional and moral support. 

Luckily, the internet and social media have made it easier than ever before for people to communicate and connect with others, particularly for those living with social anxieties, a common symptom of ASD. 

It has also helped in spreading the word about ASD and breaking the stigma associated with it.

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