What is Autism?

Autism is simply a Neurodiverse Brain processing difference which is congenital (present at birth) and is NOT degenerative (gets worse). You either have Autism or you do not. Persons on the spectrum do not need to be "cured" and do not have a mental illness! In fact, did you know? The very first person to be diagnosed and labeled "Autistic" was named so because of his G
IFTED abilities! Meet Donald Triplett.........

Donald Gray Triplett;  was the first person diagnosed with autism. He was first diagnosed by Leo Kanner, and was labeled as "Case 1". Triplett was noted for his savant abilities, particularly the ability to name musical notes played on a piano, and the ability to perform rapid mental multiplication.

Important fact! Autism is on a Spectrum just as NeuroTypicals (NT's)

Dr. Temple Grandin PhD., professor at Colorado University has participated in many speaking engagements over the decades and made her own brain scan public for Autism awareness education. With the advent of Neuroimaging technologies in the 90's, neurologically different individuals whose brains have been imaged and studies have revealed significant neurological differences that has a genetic bases. The brains of Autistic individuals process the world differently due to structural differences in the brain that affects the way Autistic people behave, socialize, and communicate with others no matter where they are on the spectrum.

What Autism is NOT

Autism is not a disorder! Neurodiverse brains are not "disordered" brains (although this is the current language) simply because they have differing neural pathways sending information to the SAME central neural junctures such as the limbic system or the executive functioning centers than from the brains of Neurotypicals (NT's). Neuroimaging is only in its infancy stage since the 90's and science has a long way to update labels, language and understanding around the wonderful processing brains of AS people.

It’s important to note that studies looking at differences between autism in women and men have been very small or flawed. Many more large, long-term studies are needed to draw any firm conclusions about autism in women.

Why does autism often go undiagnosed in girls?

Simply put. Autism behaviors were first noticed and studied exclusively in boys. In addition, Autism wasn't even part of the diagnostic manual until the 1980's where many young girls of the 60's-80's were either horribly misdiagnosed or undiagnosed leaving many, like myself, with additional struggles with PTSD and depression. But a new milder form of "seeing and behaving" in the world differently began to emerge among gifted women later in life. Thousands are now coming forth with late-life diagnosis of high functioning autism. A 2013 study involving almost 2,500 children with autism still suggests that it often goes undiagnosed in girls. This could explain why autism appears to be more "common" in boys. Clearly the psychological and medical communities can do more to help spot and help this sorely under diagnosed and under served female population.

What are the symptoms of high functioning or "Aspie Girl/Women" traits?

AS symptoms usually appear in early childhood, before the age of 2. For example, infants may not make eye contact. In some cases, they might show indifference toward their parents. However Aspie girls often can make appropriate eye contact making them harder to diagnose and help accomodate them in areas needed.

Around age 2, they may start to show signs of aggression due to frustration, start taking steps backward in their language development or emotionally begin to shut down.

High Functioning autism among girls, teens and women is a a sort of "You Are Here" on the spectrum with not all girls, teens and women with AS will displaying these symptoms. Generally, though, these specific patters of behaviors and ways of processing the world differently than NT's tend to involve problems with social interactions from a lack of understanding each others' language and processing.

Social communication and interaction symptoms

All children and adults, no matter where on the spectrum, have difficulty connecting with others! It is vital to remember that this is not because they do not want to, but rather we just find it difficult to "de-code" NT's language and processing.

This can result in a range of "symptomatic frustrations", such as:

  • resistance to touching due to tactile sensitivities or past violations
  • a preference for being alone not understanding how to de-code the world of NT's
  • inappropriate or no facial gestures (i.e. laughing, crying, flat affect)
  • inability to start a conversation or keep one going due to a strong dislike of "chit chat" or "small talk"or gossiping which appears superficial and frustrating
  • excessive talk about a favorite subject with minimal response for the reactions of others due to assumption person is interested also known as specialized interests often at the level of an expert either in their field or well-beyond their field
  • speech problems such as getting "stuck" when emotional overwhelm or unusual speech patterns due to high level verbiage or frustrations with NT communication problems
  • inability to express emotions or recognize them in others due to lacking of language around the vague concepts called "feelings"
  • trouble recognizing simple social cues due to hyper-focus on the subject rather than social nuiances
  • Depending on where the woman is on the spectrum, higher functioning have a great ability to recognize nonverbal forms of communication and behavioral patterns of NT's that they are not aware of

Other Common High Functioning Behavioral Traits (those women on the higher IQ part of the spectrum)

  • becoming extremely fascinated with a particular subject matter, fact, or detail to the point of expert level especially high IQ Aspie
  • extremely sensitive to lights, sounds, tastes, and textures
  • great ability to predict someone’s response or reaction for gifted end of spectrum (due to high functioning cerebral cortex putting large amounts of connective data together at once)
  • great ability to focus on particular objects or activities such as in the science and technologies industries
  • having particular food preferences or aversions to food textures
  • make excellent STEM Girls and Women!
  • often highly successful (physicians, psychologists, neurologists, psychiatrist, etc)

How are the symptoms different in women?

The behaviors and sensory sensitivities of autism in women aren't too different from those in men. However, researchers believe that women and girls are far better at fitting in and camouflage or hide their idiosyncratic ways of processing the world. This is particularly common 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

While both males and females with autism can mask their differing ways of processing the world, masking is far more common in women and girls. This could explain why they’re less likely to be diagnosed with autism and many remain untreated and are suffering.

Where can I find support?

Given that women tend to be better at masking their symptoms, being a woman with autism can feel particularly isolating. For many women, it’s an emotional process that involves revisiting childhood behavior and social problems. Consider reaching out to other women living with autism.

Women's Health & Wellness, LLC offers a wide range of personal, social and professional services and support for women 18+ who "dance on the spectrum" of higher functioning Autism.

Even if you’re not ready to interact with someone, we will be here welcoming you when you are!

Online scheduling

Understanding High Functioning Autism in Women

By Dr. Darla K. Johnson PhD

Health/Medical Psychologist