When it comes to autism, people are usually diagnosed as either boys or women.
A strange statement, certainly, but which is statistically true. Indeed, men are more likely to be diagnosed in childhood, while women can wait decades to receive identification for the sense of displacement they have experienced throughout their lives.
Such was the case for Jane McNeice who, while researching ADHD symptoms on behalf of her son, came across a social media post that brought her to a halt. It was a spider diagram that shared the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) commonly seen in girls, many of which were the opposite of what the media and culture have conditioned us to believe are the definitive symptoms, but which are only the closest. tested and generally associated with boys and men.
“I knew right away that this was exactly what I had been looking for all my life,” she recalls. “Then I did something very ‘autistic’. I grabbed a sheet of paper, wrote down the 23 traits as headings, wrote down my rationale for responding to each and to what extent, and rated each one out of 10. I scored 219/230 on my pseudo self-assessment.
This scenario – a grown woman seeking a life-enhancing diagnosis she should have received as a child – is unfortunately more common than it should be. This is because the traditional diagnostic criteria for autism were developed based on research primarily involving boys and as a result, signs of autism in girls are often overlooked or misinterpreted.
It’s only in recent years that awareness of the difference in autism markers in women has been reflected in the numbers – according to the National Autistic Society, the sex ratio of diagnoses in men and women is now 3:1. But there is still a long way to go, and women must overcome the daily challenges that autism brings to work with a misdiagnosis or without a diagnosis.
Founder of the mental health training company Mind Matters, Jane has been teaching employers to recognize and support mental health issues for years, in hopes that more people with undiagnosed neurodivergences can get the help they need. they need to flourish and belong to society. workplace. But that was while struggling with challenges that she herself had no attribution yet. It was only by making this self-assessment that she was finally able to receive the diagnosis she needed at the age of 45 – around 40 years later than the average ASD diagnosis in the UK. This experience led her to write The Umbrella Picker – the book she “wish someone else had written” for her 30 years earlier – in a bid to share her experience of living with autism undiagnosed and to help other “lost girls” identify themselves.
Late diagnosis of autism in women is a significant issue that can negatively impact mental health and well-being, especially in the workplace. By raising awareness of the unique experiences of women with autism and supporting early diagnosis and intervention, we can help ensure that all people with autism receive the support and resources they need to thrive.
Here are 4 key awareness points Jane wants to bring to women who may be wondering if they should seek a diagnosis.
A desire for perfection is normal
The pressure to conform to societal expectations can be overwhelming, leading many to push themselves to excel in all aspects of their lives. “Undiagnosed autistic women normalize high scores,” says Jane. “If I do a degree, I leave with a first, a postgraduate course, a distinction.” But this search for perfection can have negative consequences, leading to resentment and isolation from others. “I often find that we end up being hated specifically for (our) perfectionist traits, because they can (feel belittled) by those around us with low self-esteem.”
Overanalysis is common
With a tendency to focus on details, women with autism can spend a lot of time analyzing every aspect of a task or project, which can lead to setbacks, delays, or indecisiveness. Additionally, the social anxiety they feel can make communication difficult. This was the case for Jane. “We ruminate and overthink, and that’s normal for us – our brains don’t turn off.
…And that can lead to burnout
One of the main reasons women take longer to diagnose (apart from the fact that the tests aren’t done for them) is that they are much better than men at masking their autistic traits to accommodate what is socially considered “normal”. However, if you do this all the time, it can lead to burnout. “We don’t have a filter,” observes Jane. “We say what we think. I socially mask my ‘no filter’ (because) I live with the fear of looking arrogant and rude, when I don’t want to or don’t want to We will analyze every conversation, every social faux pas, and cry out for it, and never forget it.
Diagnosis can be a relief
For many autistic women, receiving a diagnosis can be validation. It can help them better understand their experiences and connect with others who are on the spectrum. It can also provide a roadmap for accessing support and resources that can help them thrive.
“All the thoughts I used to have about my life being really tough, I realize now that they were totally valid. It turns out that my life has been tougher than most,” says Jan. Before the diagnosis, I felt “other” and “wrong”. Now I know I’m just different.
“I am exonerated and validated.”
If you’re wondering if you’re on the autism spectrum, it’s important to seek a professional assessment from a qualified medical professional or psychologist. They can help you understand your unique experiences and determine if a diagnosis is appropriate. For more information, visit