Gender differences in Aspergers

As a female with Aspergers, I often get frustrated when people neglect females on the autism spectrum and concentrate almost solely on males when writing literature or when carrying out research studies. Official estimates for the male to female ratio of people with autistic spectrum conditions vary between 2:1 and 16:1, depending on which source you get the information from. It is widely accepted by medical professionals that, among those who also have a degree of learning disability, the male to female ratio is not as biased towards males as it is in people who have autism but no learning disability. I personally believe that there are just as many females as males with Aspergers Syndrome but females are extremely under diagnosed for reasons which I will explain in this blog.

This page on the National Autistic Society website gives some fantastic reasons as to why a lot of females are misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. http://www.autism.org.uk/about-autism/autism-and-asperger-syndrome-an-introduction/gender-and-autism/women-and-girls-on-the-autism-spectrum.aspx I agree with a lot of their points. What I have noticed is that a lot of women who are on the autistic spectrum struggle with social skills but not in such an extreme way as men can. There is the whole argument that women are wired to be better in social situations than their male counterparts so women with autism, whilst still at a disadvantage, can cope slightly better. A lot of females with autism and Aspergers are natural mimics and can observe other females in social settings and copy their behaviours, meaning that their social skills never get picked up as concerning enough to be considered for an Aspergers diagnosis. Socialising can still cause these women extreme anxiety but they are capable of hiding it well and dealing with the emotional fall out at home rather than in public. Of course, there are men on the spectrum who are also capable of and willing to mimic other people’s social behaviour but this tends to occur a lot more in women. I am not trying to say that females have it easier because they can mimic social behaviour-other women can be extremely harsh about women with Aspergers who are often seen as odd. I have personally found that women are less likely to forgive social mistakes then men and bear grudges for a lot longer when you inadvertently offend them. I am simply trying to point out that those with Aspergers who mimic well can miss out on a diagnosis because they can come across as having good social skills. I have learned social skills over the years but they do not come naturally to me and I know that I come across as very aloof when I am tired because I simply don’t have the energy to communicate with people. This is the aspect of Aspergers that people find the hardest to understand in my experience as people believe that, as they are inherently social beings, everyone else is too and don’t understand how tiring socialising can be for someone on the spectrum.

I find a lot of points on that list resonate deeply with me. I am always happy to socialise with friends but often they are the ones that initiate it. I have, in the past, been scared to enter a room where I know that some of my friends are because I felt very self conscious entering a room alone. I have now overcome this particular anxiety and will happily enter a room and chat to the people in there if I know them but, for years, it was an issue. I have an extremely vivid imagination and had a whole extended family of imaginary friends when I was a child. I used to day dream elaborate stories of their lives and add more characters when I felt that their lives were getting boring! I read fiction books a lot and enjoy visualising myself in the story. I often day dream about entering another world and what that would be like. 

Not all of my interests have been shared by my peers-I don’t know many other women who, during childhood, were obsessed with pregnancy and childbirth and the different makes of pushchairs sold in Mothercare but I do know females with Aspergers whose special interests were shared by other girls without Aspergers-horse riding, dance and baking, for example. The fact that special interests are not noted as concerning unless they are unique says a lot about society in general in my opinion. Why is a special interest in train timetables or Maths seen as concerning and strange whilst a special interest in animals or cooking is viewed as perfectly fine? All of these interests are often obsessive in someone on the spectrum but the first 2 are noticed by society more than the final 2.

I believe that females with Aspergers suffer deeply from the consequences of trying so hard to fit in. This quote sums it up perfectly-“The fact that girls with undiagnosed autism are painstakingly copying some behaviour is not picked up and therefore any social and communication problems they may be having are also overlooked. This sort of mimicking and repressing their autistic behaviour is exhausting, perhaps resulting in the high statistics of women with mental health problems.” (Dale Yaull-Smith, 2008). A worryingly large percentage of adult women on the autistic spectrum have issues with anxiety and poor self image which can lead to certain destructive behaviours. If you live your whole life believing, that as a woman, you must be social and able to interact well in all situations, you inevitably feel as though you are constantly falling short of these expectations. As mentioned before, men, in my experience, are a lot more accepting of social difference even though, initially, it is girls who are more likely to befriend the child in infant school who is eccentric and struggles to make friends. Some women are simply cruel and vicious when it comes to other women who struggle socially and the effects of this can be devastating. 

This YouTube video also describes the manifestations of Aspergers in women very eloquently. Whilst there are common symptoms shared between everyone on the spectrum, to varying levels, hence the diagnostic criteria, there are ways in which traits show themselves in women that are completely different from how they show themselves in men. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIgsJ6uSgMo (you can disable the sound if it is annoying you).

I share a lot of these traits and a lot of these traits are not considered by medical professionals because they still think that people with Aspergers fit a narrow stereotype (see my earlier post-Debunking The Myths Of Aspergers). People who are sensitive to criticism and take things personally are not often seen as having Aspergers, for example. Traits such as these can often be exhausting. I often have thoughts racing through my mind and find it very hard to fully relax. I find this video very hard to watch as it reminds me of just how many traits I have and seeing it laid out in this format reminds me of how many issues I live with. It is a fantastic video though-many thanks to Samantha Craft for making these traits widely known.

I know that a lot of people reading this will think, rightly, that males can be under diagnosed too. People who are not diagnosed until adulthood have often learned social skills in order to not become a target for school bullies, regardless of their gender. Other people may think, when watching the video, that a lot of females without Aspergers share these traits too which I wouldn’t disagree with but, like everything, it’s about how often these traits are experienced. 

I guess my main point is that there are a lot of females out there who are living with undiagnosed Aspergers. Perhaps they have been diagnosed with anxiety or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or various personality disorders and are treated for these but still feel different and don’t understand why. They can often feel highly isolated and struggle with depression because their needs have not been picked up and therefore are not being met. Please have patience with us-this world is an exhausting place and other people’s judgements make it so much harder.

Thanks for reading!

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5 Responses to Gender differences in Aspergers

  1. Pingback: Can you tell just by looking? | seventhvoice

  2. Pingback: PostScript | aspergal

  3. aspiebaby50 says:

    Having Aspergers’ syndrome is much more simple than the list in your video which describes the human population. It is a fixation on self, believing the willingness to express makes ones’ attributes unique

  4. aspiebaby50 says:

    Asperger Disorder definition has been tied to those with the syndrome who have specific correllating physical abnomalies. While these maybe linked to one brain area, as all vision problems are to the sight area of the brain,each Asperger spectrum(disorder or syndrome) can present independently.

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