While both men and women can have Autism, the symptoms of Autism in women can be profoundly different from those in men.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental disability that appears during early childhood. It can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation.
Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors, such as being nonverbal, having atypical speech patterns, restricted and repetitive behavior, patterns, activities, and interests, and preference for sameness and difficulty with transition or routine.
Autism is a “spectrum condition,” meaning it affects people differently and to varying degrees.
It’s important to diagnose a person with Autism early in life so that that can get the resources and care they need to live a fulfilling and healthy life, so it’s crucial to look out for symptoms.
Additionally, the sex of an Autistic person can affect how symptoms present. Male and female autism share some similarities, but overall, the symptoms of Autism in women tend to present differently than men.
4 Symptoms of Autism in Women
Women who have Autism may present the following symptoms, which don’t necessarily present in men, including:
- social difficulties
- emotional regulation issues
- the nature of intense interests
The Differences Between Autism in Women and Men
The major differences between the symptoms of Autism in women and the symptoms of Autism in men are differences of degrees for the most part.
Women who have Autism may experience a more difficult time reading and responding to social cues. One way to combat this is by creating a social “checklist” and learning how to respond to people in socially appropriate ways.
Autistic women often feel socially anxious, ruminate on their social interactions, and may feel excluded or lonely.
Autistic women may feel better in one-on-one situations, and they may feel more exhausted or drained after interacting in a group situation.
Emotional Regulation Issues Are a Major Symptom of Autism in Women
Researchers have found that there is a poor connection between the frontal cortex and the amygdala in people with Autism.
Because of this, they may find it hard to rationalize situations and stay in emotional control. Meltdowns may occur, which are extreme emotional reactions to situations that might result in losing their temper, crying, or going into shutdown mode.
While both men and women with Autism tend to have specialized, intense interests, women with Autism tend to have interests in a wider range of subjects.
These include how the mind works or people (particularly romantic partners, “crushes,” or celebrities).
Many women with Autism are skilled researchers and may gravitate toward careers or hobbies which require a high level of intense focus.
Camouflaging — A More Pronounced Symptom of Autism in Women
Researchers have also found that women and girls are more likely to “camouflage” or hide their symptoms of Autism.
While men may do this as well, it is more common to happen in women, particularly among females at the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Common forms of camouflaging include:
- forcing yourself to make eye contact during conversations
- preparing jokes or phrases ahead of time to use in conversation
- mimicking the social behavior of others
- imitating expressions and gestures
Additional Symptoms of Autism in Women
In addition to all these differences, a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests that, compared to men, women with autism present the following symptoms:
- more social difficulties and trouble interacting
- less of an ability to adapt
- less of a tendency to become hyper-focused on a subject or activity
- more emotional problems
- more cognitive and language problems
- more problem behaviors, such as acting out and becoming aggressive
Causes of the Symptoms of Autism in Women and Treatments
As of today, there are no known causes of Autism, but it may be influenced by genetic and environmental factors.
While there is no cure for Autism, there are some medications that can help with the symptoms that come with the disorder. For example, some medications can help with some of the behaviors and moods that present in Autism.
Potentially helpful medications include:
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
This is a category of antidepressants that may help treat some problems that result from imbalances in the body’s chemical systems.
SSRIs might reduce the frequency and intensity of many of the symptoms of Autism in women, including repetitive behaviors, decrease anxiety, irritability, tantrums, and aggressive behavior, and improve eye contact.
Tricyclics may cause more minor side effects than SSRIs. However, they may be more effective than SSRIs for treating certain people who present particular symptoms.
Psychoactive or anti-psychotic medications
These medications directly affect the brain, reducing irritability in 5-to-16-year-olds with autism.
They can decrease hyperactivity, reduce stereotyped behaviors, and minimize withdrawal and aggression among people with autism.
Stimulants Can Help With the Symptoms of Autism in Women
This group of medications can help to increase focus and decrease hyperactivity in women with autism. They are particularly helpful for those with mild ASD symptoms.
This group of medications can help relieve anxiety and panic disorders, which are often associated with ASD.
These medications treat seizures and seizure disorders, such as epilepsy. (Seizures are attacks of jerking or staring and seeming frozen.)
Almost one-third of people with autism symptoms have seizures or seizure disorders.
Autism and Other Mental Health Illnesses
While men and women may present with both, there is a far higher than average rate of suicidality in women with autism, which appears to be related to the degree of “camouflaging” they do, which also happens in women more often than men.
Sometimes, for women, their autism goes undiagnosed, and instead, it is more likely that they will receive a formal diagnosis for anxiety, depression, or another mental health issue.
This is why understand mental health disorders and reducing the stigma around them is so important—so many illnesses can co-occur.
We have to let people feel safe and secure to share how they’re feeling so that they can get the proper diagnoses and treatment to live a healthy, fulfilling life.
Are you a woman with Autism? If there are other symptoms of Autism in women that you think we should include in this list, let us know in the comments.