Woman staring into distance, hero image for '8 Common Symptoms of Autism in Women', capturing introspection.

8 Common Symptoms of Autism in Women

Reviewed by Dr. Joyce Richardson, PhD.

The symptoms of autism can look a bit different in women than in men. Signs and symptoms may be different, or maybe just more subtle in females than in men.

Women with autism are also known to be really good at hiding their symptoms. They might work really hard to fit in and not stand out, which can make it tough to recognize that they’re struggling with autism.

This can make it harder to spot or diagnose autism in women, and sometimes they may not get diagnosed until later in life.

Today we’ll take a look at some common symptoms of autism in women, but it’s important to remember that autism is a spectrum, which means it can look different in everyone.

Camouflaging Behaviors

A 2021 study showed that girls and women with autism often hide their true difficulties in social situations by imitating neurotypical behaviors.

This is known as camouflaging, or masking, their behaviors.

It can be things like pretending to understand a joke or forcing eye contact, even though these things don’t come naturally to them.

Camouflaging can be incredibly draining and stressful for women with autism. They likely constantly feel compelled to perform in social situations. This constant pressure can lead to feelings of isolation and being misunderstood and this can come at a cost to their mental and emotional well-being.

As a community, we can help by becoming more aware of the impact of camouflaging and providing more support for individuals with autism.

Embracing neurodiversity and reducing societal pressure to conform to norms can create a more inclusive and supportive environment where those with autism feel comfortable being their authentic selves.

Women in a circle with one sad, showing support for autism camouflaging behaviors among women.

Symptoms of Autism in Women

Autism doesn’t look the same in everyone, and it turns out that women often exhibit unique symptoms compared to men.

This can make it harder for women to get an accurate diagnosis.

Let’s take a look at some common symptoms of autism in women.

Social Difficulties

Autistic women often find themselves struggling in social situations more than men. They may have a hard time understanding social cues and fitting in with others.

This can lead to feelings of anxiety and loneliness, even when they’re trying their best to be sociable. While they might do okay in one-on-one chats, being in big groups can be exhausting for them.

It’s like they’re following a social “checklist” to navigate through conversations, but it’s not always easy. Despite their efforts, they may still feel left out and misunderstood.

Group of teens with one girl isolated, showing social difficulties, a symptom of autism in women.

Sensory Sensitivity

Autistic women often experience heightened sensitivity to everything around them – sounds, lights, smells, and even touch.

Everyday experiences, such as being unable to sleep because of someone’s breathing or feeling uncomfortable in crowded places, can be overwhelming.

This hypersensitivity can make navigating daily life challenging, as even seemingly ordinary stimuli can provoke intense reactions.

Executive Function Challenges

Woman sitting in cluttered room, symbolizing executive function challenges in women with autism.

Executive function is the set of cognitive skills that helps us stay organized, focused, and in control. But for autistic women, organization, planning, and time management can be a struggle.

Executive function difficulties can manifest in forgetting tasks, having trouble sticking to routines, and having trouble with task completion.

Simple activities, like maintaining a clean living space or staying focused at work, can feel like daunting tasks.

Obsessive Interests

Autistic women often have intense, specialized interests that they dive into headfirst.

While men might focus on specific objects or topics, women’s interests can be broader, including people and psychology.

They’re like detectives, wanting to know everything about their passions. This intense focus can lead them to careers or hobbies that require deep concentration and research.

Sleep Issues

Many autistic women battle with sleep issues, and it’s not just about tossing and turning at night. Sensory sensitivities and discomfort around others can make it hard for them to relax and fall asleep.

Even the presence of another person can worsen their sleep problems. It’s like their brain just can’t switch off, leaving them exhausted and drained during the day.

Woman in bed with pillow around ears, representing sleep issues associated with autism in women.

Struggles With Eye Contact

Making eye contact might seem like a simple thing, but for autistic women, it can be a real challenge. While they might force themselves to do it, it doesn’t come naturally.

If you notice someone struggling with eye contact, it could be a sign that they’re autistic, especially if it feels unnatural or difficult for them.

Problems with Emotional Regulation

Woman covering ears, looking sad, depicting emotional regulation problems, a symptom of autism in women.

Autistic women often find it hard to regulate their emotions, which can lead to meltdowns – extreme emotional reactions to situations.

It’s like their brains struggles to make sense of things, making it difficult for them to stay in control. From losing their temper to shutting down completely, meltdowns can be overwhelming for autistic women.

Mental Health Challenges

Life can be tough for autistic women, and it’s not surprising that many of them struggle with anxiety, depression, OCD, Bipolar Disorder, and/or Borderline Personality Disorder.

The pressure to fit in and constantly camouflage their differences can take a toll on their mental health. With a higher risk of anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts, it’s important to support autistic women and provide them with the help they need.

Diagnosing Autism in Women

Historically, autism has been predominantly studied and diagnosed in males, leading to a gap in understanding how it manifests in females. However, research has increasingly highlighted the importance of recognizing and correctly diagnosing autism in women.

For one thing, women with autism tend to be better at masking their autism symptoms as we mentioned above. They might copy the behaviors of those around them to fit in, which can make it harder to spot their struggles.

So, when it comes to diagnosing autism in women, it’s important for professionals to be aware of these differences and to look for the less obvious signs. Things like social challenges, sensory sensitivities, and repetitive behaviors are still key indicators in women, they just might not look the same as they do in men.

Ultimately, diagnosing autism in women requires a deeper understanding of how the disorder can manifest differently in them so if you suspect that you or someone you know is showing symptoms, seeking consultation from professionals like a psychologist, pediatrician, or neurologist would be best.

Treating Autism in Women

Older woman looking out window,  showing contemplation and hope.

It’s important to note here that since autism is not an illness, there is no cure.

However, there are several professionals who can help treat the symptoms of autism in women using unique therapies.

  • Behavioral Therapists: Provide social skills training to help women with autism navigate social interactions and develop effective communication strategies. They implement strategies from Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to address obsessive interests which improves organizational skills.
  • Occupational Therapists: Offer sensory integration therapy to address sensory sensitivities that may contribute to emotional dysregulation, meltdowns, and sleep issues. These activities and interventions also target executive function skills, such as planning, time management, and self-control.
  • Speech-Language Therapists: Offer communication skills training to improve verbal and nonverbal communication abilities, helping improve social interactions and eye contact.
  • Psychiatrists/Psychologists: Provide cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help women with autism develop coping strategies and emotional regulation techniques to manage meltdowns. They also provide medication management and support services to address co-occurring mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder.

Ultimately, the key to treating autism in females is recognizing and understanding the unique ways it can present in girls and women and providing the appropriate support and intervention.

With the right approach, it’s possible for females with autism to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives.

Parents of Girls with Autism

Although many women with autism aren’t diagnosed until later in life, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for signs earlier in childhood because early identification allows for more effective intervention therapies which can significantly improve treatment outcomes for specific symptoms.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children get developmental screening at their 9-, 18-, and 24- or 30-month well-child checkups, and there are specific autism screenings that are typically offered at their 18- and 24-month well-child visits. But you can also keep a lookout for some of the common signs we’ve discussed in this article at home.

If your little girl is not participating in school to their full potential, they are having difficulties communicating, or you notice them hyperfocusing on specific topics, it’s worth consulting a professional.

Remember to consider that girls with autism often have different interests and obsessions compared to boys. While boys might be fixated on things like trains or dinosaurs, girls might be more drawn to animals, art, or literature.

Girl on the floor with a child’s hand holding a bunny, highlighting autism symptoms in girls.

Conclusion

Understanding autism in women requires a nuanced approach that acknowledges the unique manifestation of symptoms and challenges they may face.

Ultimately, it’s essential to approach autism with compassion, empathy, and a commitment to promoting neurodiversity.

By working together to address the unique needs of women with autism, we can strive towards a more inclusive society where every individual is valued and supported, regardless of their neurodevelopmental differences.