Autism: Many adults with autism are misdiagnosed – signs to spot

Christine McGuinness on hereditary autism in her family

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Many women with this condition tend to be misdiagnosed and misunderstood, Spectrum News reports. This might be due to possible differences in signs between women and men as the NHS reports “it can be harder to tell you’re autistic if you’re a woman”.

Autism can sometimes manifest differently in women and men, according to the NHS.

The health service reports that autistic women may be quieter, hide their feelings and appear to cope better with social situations.

This description is different from the summary of autism the health body has.

This summary states autistic people might get anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations and social events and find social situations difficult as it can be hard to communicate and interact with other people.

The NHS concludes that this difference between men and women means “it can be harder” to tell if a woman is autistic.

Around 42 percent of women and girls with autism receive at least one misdiagnosis before finding out they have autism, Psychology Today states.

National Library of Medicine reports that on average, girls who have mild symptoms of autism are diagnosed two years later than boys.

There are also women coming out sharing their stories of misdiagnosis, just like Maya.

Maya told her story to Spectrum News but asked for her last name to be left out.

“It took 10 years, 14 psychiatrists, 17 medications and nine diagnoses before someone finally realised that what Maya has autism.”

Some think this problem with misdiagnosis, affecting women, is due to the difference in how autistic men and women appear.

Neurodevelopmental Specialist Hannah Hayward told Clinical Partners: “Quite a large proportion of women are diagnosed later in life because they aren’t presenting as you would expect autistic people to present. 

“The women I work with are often diagnosed because their children are being diagnosed and they recognise similar traits in themselves.”

But others, like autistic scientist and author Dr Camilla Pang, disagree with this. She noted: “I feel autistic women are more likely to be described as ‘anxious’ and an autism diagnosis overlooked,” National Autistic Society shared.

The charity lists different reasons for misdiagnosis, ranging from autism signs in women being under-reported to research mainly focusing on the effects of testosterone on brain development.

Hayward put together a list of signs that can be found in girls specifically.

These include:

  • Mimicry – obsessive tendencies related to people (celebrity, or a friend) and mimicking their behaviours
  • Social ability – working “extra hard” to fit in and preparing for social situations in advance, e.g., rehearsing possible conversations.

As women tend to work “harder” to fit in and be more sociable, it might lead to reaching adulthood without any sort of diagnosis, Hayward added.

Or this may result in being diagnosed with other conditions, including anxiety, depression, or borderline personality disorder, a disorder of mood and how a person interacts with others.

The NHS advises seeing a GP if you think you might be autistic.


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