If you are an adult woman and you think you have autism, you should first know that you are not alone in this. Even if you evaluate your behavior according to the diagnostic criteria, it is very common for it to be wrong. Therefore, it is especially necessary to evaluate your behaviors related to social communication, routine life, sensory differences, and logical thinking.
In today’s world, it can be very challenging to get an autism diagnosis for a woman. Even though their lives look very “normal”, they would know that their lives are quite different from their peers. Let’s say they are on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum; they try to understand the reason behind that and look for that. So, there are a couple of symptoms that even a woman herself can understand that at least there could be autism.
Autism in women can be considered social anxiety or shyness.
Since it is culturally acceptable for women to be quieter, shy, and reserved by nature, it is very difficult for them to be diagnosed with autism in the first years of their lives. Because their parents don’t think it’s a problem. When the situation remains the same over the years, the individual may begin to feel uncomfortable with this situation, even though her family does not notice the situation. The difficulties that women experience due to their silence and shyness are considered strange behaviors in social settings. Accepting these behaviors as strange also causes an increase in anxiety levels for those women. And that may cause women with autism not to enter social settings. It will be the individual or her closest relatives who will understand that this situation is different from shyness.
Women with autism tend to hide their autism symptoms.
Many women on the autism spectrum use camouflage to adapt to daily life and social environments. These are actually compensatory strategies for them. They imitate their peers. Their observation skills have improved. They may laugh at jokes even if they don’t understand. They may smile to encourage someone to talk to them. Despite all their efforts, they cannot understand speech and may wonder what other people understand. They also imitate the body language of the people around them. They may try to make themselves seem like they are compatible with the environment. For this reason, imitation is actually the most common strategy used by women with autism.
Women with autism may not be as kind or gentle as their peers.
Under normal circumstances, women are expected to be polite and behave well. But when it comes to women with autism, the situation can be very different. They have a very difficult time understanding social rules because unwritten rules are pretty meaningless to them. Therefore, they are exposed to more etiquette education by their families or the people around them. This, at least superficially, causes them to adapt better to the society they live in and to hide their autism symptoms more successfully.
Bullying that women with autism are exposed to can lead to diseases such as depression and cause them to be misdiagnosed.
Compared to their peers, women with autism are more bullied, left alone, and feel awkward. This situation causes extra anxiety. The anxiety level becomes so high that it can be mistaken for autism symptoms. In fact, mood disorders and autism in general are misdiagnosed in women. Many women with autism may be diagnosed with depression or a mood disorder even if they are not diagnosed with autism.
Autistic Female Behaviors
- Women on the spectrum tend to be more sociable. They realize that it is a need. Their imitation skills are good, even if their interaction skills are not sufficient. In order to adapt to society, they imitate their peers and copy their behavior. They are not initiators of interaction or conversation, but once started they can adapt relatively easily.
- Women with autism are careful when talking. They pay extra attention to the words they use. They don’t make meaningless comments. They are so forthright that they can be considered tactless by the public, and they always use words in their first meaning.
- Girls and women on the spectrum have a very detailed and colorful imagination. It is very enjoyable for them to escape into the fiction and imagination they have built-in their minds in environments where they are not comfortable. It helps them keep their anxiety under control.
- Women with autism have difficulty understanding social status. They cannot make sense of social hierarchy. This causes problems in communicating. They may not know how to talk to their teachers. They can be very rude to their boss. They may be nervous or anxious because they can’t grasp the situation when there are more popular women.
- Women with autism are more likely to experience depression and anxiety disorders than men on the spectrum. There may be depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and a number of mental disorders. In today’s conditions, eating disorders are very common in women who have been underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
- While having fewer friends is a result of preference in women who have completed their development normally, this is an inevitable situation in women with autism. The problems they experience in communication and interaction cause this situation. They are isolated from their peers. So, they have fewer friends who really understand them and want to support them.
- For women with autism, puberty is pure torture. It is perhaps the most stressful time of their lives. While adolescence is a difficult phase in itself, it becomes even more difficult for women with autism because of the emotions and hormones they cannot give meaning to. What is more difficult is that even the professionals who can help them and provide the support they seek are scarce.
Hope for Women With Autism
Considering that women are better at masking and hiding their autism symptoms, many women on the autism spectrum feel excluded from society. While it is a process that begins in childhood for many women, it becomes more challenging in adulthood. As emotional processes become involved, they begin to have a more exhausting life and begin to question why their life is the way it is.
Women with autism need hope and support just as much as any individual with autism. Women often feel relieved when they receive this diagnosis because they are diagnosed late. They make sense of the difficulties and challenges they have experienced so far. They can look at their lives from the perspective of autism and reevaluate their lives.
Most women with autism are often ridiculed, blamed, or shamed for their behavior throughout their entire lives. And the people around them are often not enough to provide the support they need. These people could be their parents, teachers, or even professionals.
Therefore, in today’s internet age, there are online platforms where women with autism can share their experiences with other women who have the same difficulties as themselves. Understanding that they are not alone in sharing their own experiences also makes them feel good. They offer hope and support to each other. Even if they are not ready to physically interact with someone, they can listen to first-person stories thanks to online platforms.
Treatment for Women With Autism
There is currently no medication that can be prescribed for individuals with autism. Prescription drugs are mostly used to reduce the symptoms of autism-related disorders. This is also true for women with autism. In fact, comorbid conditions are of greater importance for the understanding of autism in women.
In addition to prescription medications, therapy is also recommended. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) will be particularly beneficial for women with autism. With this therapy, they develop an understanding of social life, have an idea of how to speak in public or learn how to defend themselves in a setting.
A woman with autism may want to improve herself or learn new skills because her awareness will be higher than other individuals on the spectrum. It will be important to act in this direction in therapy as well. It should not be forgotten that while maintaining personal differences and adapting to the society they live in is quite difficult even for people who have completed their normal development, it will be more challenging for women with autism. Therefore, ABA therapy can be followed in addition to CBT. ABA therapy is Applied Behavior Analysis. Individuals with autism have been trained for years to show their autism symptoms as less autistic.
Can a Woman With Autism Live an Independent Life?
Definitely, yes. A woman who is on the autism spectrum and is aware of it can live an independent life. These women, who are more aware, do not have any problems with experiencing the problems they experience in their emotional or routine life alone. Intervention plans are designed to help these women achieve their highest level of independence.
Since autism is a spectrum and will be observed at different levels in everyone, treatment plans are also different and must be personalized. It should be arranged according to the interests, skills, and passions of each individual with autism. The most appropriate form of therapy should be followed in line with the needs of the person. In this way, they will become more active in their daily lives.
Just as there are different degrees of autism, there are also different degrees of independence. The extent to which a woman with autism can lead an independent life also varies depending on how early her autism is diagnosed. This independence experience should be accepted as a journey by both the individuals on the autism spectrum and the people around them so that the ups and downs on the road do not tire them or discourage them from their path.
Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network (AWN)
“Neurodiversity is for everyone.”
Even though it was originally a community that was established to help and support women and girls on the autism spectrum, it currently includes women, girls, and every individual who feels physiologically or biologically female on the autism spectrum. It provides an opportunity for these individuals to share their experiences, aiming to create an inclusive and supportive environment.
AWN of course recognizes the gender identity of each individual. AWN focuses on female identity, as there are already many communities for individuals who are male in their perceived or actual gender identity. They argue that gender is not binary and is a spectrum like autism. On this occasion, they invite everyone who feels feminine to support them.
AWN focuses on the experiences and lives of women on the autism spectrum. They expect those who will participate to support it in this direction. They try to prove first to the people in the community and then to the world that gender identity does not mean anything when it comes to disorders.
Although the AWN Network is based on gender, ethnicity is also very important. In short, it aims to provide the same amount of support to every individual who feels female in the spectrum regardless of ethnicity, color, and language.
AWN challenges societal attitudes towards people with disabilities. Since women are accepted at the same level as disabled individuals in many societies, they wanted to create a community where every individual on the autism spectrum who feels female would feel good. They carry out their work in various geographical areas. With many different ways you can think, they try to show this to the rest of the world.
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