How does Autism present in Females Vs Males?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) presents differently in females compared to males, but it’s important to note that there is a wide range of variability within both genders, and these differences are not absolute. In the past, autism has been underdiagnosed in females, partly because diagnostic criteria and research were primarily based on male presentations of the disorder. As our understanding of autism has evolved, we have come to recognise that females with ASD may exhibit unique characteristics and challenges.
Here are some key differences and considerations:
Males with autism may often struggle with obvious social difficulties, such as difficulty making eye contact, engaging in reciprocal conversations, or understanding non-verbal cues.
Females with autism, however, may be more adept at masking their social challenges by imitating their peers, making eye contact, and appearing socially engaged. However, this masking can be exhausting and may lead to social anxiety or mental health issues.
Research suggests that females with autism in the UK may be more skilled at social camouflaging, which involves imitating or mimicking typical social behaviours to fit in. This can make it more challenging to identify autism in females, as they may appear to have better social skills on the surface.
‘Females with autism may have a strong desire for social connection and friendships but may struggle with the complexity of social interactions and maintaining relationships. This can lead to feelings of isolation and anxiety’.
Language and communication difficulties are common in both genders with autism. However, females may develop better language skills earlier and use more advanced verbal communication, which can sometimes mask their underlying social communication challenges.
Language and Communication: Some research suggests that females with autism may exhibit better language and communication skills than their male counterparts. However, they may still experience difficulties with pragmatic language and understanding social nuances.
Females with autism may have a strong desire for social connection and friendships but may struggle with the complexity of social interactions and maintaining relationships. This can lead to feelings of isolation and anxiety.
Both males and females with autism may have intense interests or obsessions in specific topics, however, the nature of these topics can differ. Males may be more likely to have narrow, specialised interests, while females may have more socially acceptable interests that are easier to integrate into daily life.
‘While both genders with autism can have intense interests, studies have indicated that females may have more socially acceptable special interests compared to males. These interests may be focused on animals, literature, or art, for example’.
Sensory sensitivities, such as heightened sensitivity to noise, light, or touch, are common in both males and females with autism.
Females with autism may have a greater tendency to internalise their emotions, leading to anxiety, depression, or self-harming behaviours. They may also be more likely to experience co-occurring mental health conditions.
It’s important to recognise that these differences are not absolute, and there is considerable variability within both genders on the autism spectrum. Additionally, research in this area is ongoing, and our understanding of gender differences in autism continues to evolve.
Historically, autism has been diagnosed at a lower rate in females, partly due to the masking of symptoms and the use of diagnostic criteria based on male presentations. However, awareness of gender-specific characteristics is increasing, leading to more accurate diagnoses.
Females with autism are sometimes misdiagnosed with other conditions such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or borderline personality disorder, which can delay or prevent them from receiving appropriate support and interventions.
It’s important to remember that autism is a spectrum, and individuals, regardless of gender, can have a wide range of strengths and challenges. Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial in helping individuals with autism, regardless of their gender, to achieve their full potential and lead fulfilling lives. Autism assessment and diagnosis should consider gender-specific traits and behaviours to ensure accurate identification and appropriate support.
Mental Health: Females with autism in the UK are at a higher risk of experiencing co-occurring mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. This may be related to the social and emotional challenges they face.