Aspienwomen : Adult Women with Asperger Syndrome. Moving towards a female profile of Asperger Syndrome (Updated March 20th, 2014)
The following list is an official working screener document consisting of the unique characteristics and traits of adult women with Asperger Syndrome, or Aspienwomen. It is not a research-based formal assessment tool. This list comes from the many adult women I have worked with over the years. I have assessed, observed, diagnosed and worked with hundreds of girls and women of all ages. This document is based on my clinical anecdotal evidence and research by other well-known professionals. I will be modifying and/or updating this list from time to time. This list was written from my reflections, observations and experience, and is written in no particular order. No-one person needs to have every trait, and it is rare that a person would identify with every trait. ***Please be mindful that research often lags behind anecdotal, observational and clinical work.
Tania is currently co-authoring a book for professionals tentatively entitled “Assessment of Autism Spectrum and Asperger’s in Females: Comprehensive diagnostics and treatment planning for girls and women with autism spectrum conditions across the lifespan”.
The following profile was created for females who are self-diagnosing or considering formal diagnosis and to assist mental health professionals in recognizing Asperger Syndrome in adult females.
Females with Asperger Syndrome experience their symptoms in varying levels, so while some Aspienwomen are highly introverted, others are not. Many women would not meet formal criteria for a diagnosis due to their coping mechanisms. They would be defined as “sub-clinical” or having “residual Aspergers”. Females with Asperger Syndrome or Autism tend to be discriminated due to the wide spectrum of abilities or levels of functioning that exists. The majority of females do not receive a formal diagnosis until well into their adult years.
This list typifies many of the middle-aged Aspienwomen I have worked with. These traits also depend to some extent on the severity, whether you’ve been assessed and diagnosed and/or receives support and intervention, and also whether there is a co-existing condition(s) (for e.g., a personality disorder) present.
1. Cognitive/Intellectual Abilities
Tend to have high average to genius intelligence, often (but not always) with significant splits between verbal and perceptual reasoning abilities, lower working memory and/or processing speeds, learning disabilities (for e.g., dyscalculia, dyslexia, reading comprehension)
Superior long-term memory
Weaker short-term memory
May need academic accommodations in University
A distinct learning profile consisting of a spikey profile of strengths and weaknesses, learning disabilities/differences
May be plagued by rigid negative thinking, inflexible black or white thinking style
2. Education/University Life
May have dropped out of high school and gone back later, or may have repeated a grade. May have unfinished or partial degrees, may have many finished degrees, many have Doctorate of PhD level qualifications. Many have taken longer to achieve their education, as compared to their peers.
May have a history of enrolling and attending university classes, followed by dropping out of classes or semesters. Sometime later, she then re-enrols/attends later on, in life. This is usually due to be overloaded and overwhelmed. A history of deferring exams, not attending classes, dropping out of classes or programs, is common.
May have repeated high school or courses OR dropped out completely.
A history of many doctors and counsellors visits throughout university life, without any significant improvement
Difficulty taking the same amount of courses or classes as her peers
May get lost on campus easily, lose possessions, be late for classes or exams
Often drawn to the helping, artistic or animal professions, and often an “expert” in her chosen field. I know of many Aspienwomen who are successful in the following careers: Artists, singers, actors, poets, writers, teachers, psychologists, psychiatrists, special needs teachers/consultants, horse trainers/whisperers, doctors, scientists, accountants, authors, childcare workers, models, comedians, artists, computer-related specialists, animal handlers or zoo keepers, university professors, nurses, psychics/mediums, entrepreneurs and photographers.
May miss days of work due to social exhaustion
May find great difficulty attending/participating in staff meetings, lunch breaks, work social events
May make up excuses for not attending work/staff functions
May have a history of being unable to cope with work/employment environments, often moving from job to job, especially in younger adult years
Hard-working conscientious worker
May get stressed if have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time
May become frustrated/stressed if asked to do too many things at once
Tries very hard to avoid making mistakes, forgetting things
Tries hard to please others
May burn bridges (for e.g., walk out or quit jobs or relationships without notice)
4. Social and friendships/relationships
Preference for one-on-one social interactions, single close friendships
Need more time away from people than their peers (solitude)
May experience stress, anxiety and confusion in social group or group work situations
Strong preference to engage in conversation related to their special interest
Strong dislike for social chit-chat, gossip, nonsense, lies or conversation that lacks a ‘function’ to it, but some are known to engage in it themselves
A history of being bullied, teased, left out and/or not fitting in with same-age peers, unless she had/has similar “Aspie” friends
An intense dislike of lies, but may lie herself
Has an ability to socialize, however is unable to do so for long periods of time. Suffers from “social exhaustion” or a “social hangover” when socializing too much. The hangover can last hours to days, which can be debilitating
Experience great difficulty with conflict, arguments, being yelled at, fighting, war
Has great difficulty asserting herself, asking for help, setting boundaries
May need to drink to be able to socialize
May currently have or have experienced Post-Traumatic Stress, often due to being misunderstood, misdiagnosed, mistreated, and/or mismedicated.
Social Skills differences – is exceptionally good one-on-one and presenting to groups, however has difficulty working within group situations
May find herself in social situations or relationships that she is unhappy with, but not know how to remove herself from them
History of being taken advantage of by others, even though she has taken the appropriate business, legal or social advice from others
Often bored in social situations or parties and/or does not know how to act in social situations
May say “yes” to social events, then later make up an excuse as to why she cannot attend, often staying home in solitude (reading a book or engages in her special interest)
Often prefers to be engaged in her special interest, rather than socializing
May be considered the “black sheep” of the family
Others consider her different, odd, eccentric or “weird” by others
May feel like she has to act normal” to please others OR does not care at all about fitting in
Copies, mimics, acts in order to fit in and make others like her
A people pleaser, but then may burn bridges suddenly (for e.g., quit relationships), as they have difficulty managing conflict
Females appear to be better than males at masking the traits of autism in social situations. However, girls are less able to do so in unfamiliar settings.
May be considered a “loner” OR may have many acquaintances, but no real friends
Difficulties communicating her thoughts and feelings, in words, to others, especially if anxious, stressed or upset. Often can type or write her thoughts much better
May dislike asking others for help, be unable to ask or not know how to ask for help
May be passive, not know how to assert her boundaries in a healthy manner
May offend others by saying what she is thinking, even if she does not mean to
May point out other people’s mistakes
May give too much detail and end up boring others unintentionally
May ask embarrassing questions (usually when younger)
Unusual voice (flat, monotone, high-pitched, child-like)
Tendency to take things literally, missing what people are trying to say
May talk too loudly or too softly, often unaware that she is doing so
Often surprised when people tell her she has been rude or inappropriate
Poor pragmatic language skills
A. Highly Sensitive
Highly sensitivity, may not be able to listen to or watch the news, listen to the radio, read the newspaper, watch violent shows/movies or horror movies, see hurt or injured animals, abuse, war, trauma, are sensitive to the emotions and “emotional atmosphere” of the environment, experience referred emotion and psychic “6th sense” abilities, may have strong intuitive and/or psychic abilities
B. Sensory Processing Disorder/Condition
May have sensory sensitivities in the following areas: hearing, vision, taste, touch, smell, balance, movement, intuition
May be very sensitive to pain or have a high pain threshold
May notice how food tastes or feels and one may be more important than the other
May be clumsy or un-coordinated
May dislike loud noises and/or be overwhelmed or stressed by bright lights, strong smells, coarse textures/clothing, sirens close by or people too close behind her.
May find children hard to cope with due to crying, screaming or other loud noises
Sensitive to the way clothes feel and how they may be more important than how they look
May have to withdraw, isolate herself when overwhelmed by her senses
May not be able to tolerate sounds, sights, smells, textures, movement that she dislikes
May not like to be hugged, cuddled or held. “I only like to hug if it’s my decision”
Can get upset or distressed if unable to follow a familiar route when going somewhere
Things that should feel painful may not be (bruises but not know how they got there, due to clumsiness)
In social situations, the nervous system tends to be overwhelmed easily, leading to withdrawal (for e.g., wander off to a quiet spot at a party, play with children or animals)
Strong hunger may disrupting her mood and/or ability to focus
She may notice and enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, works of art, and pieces of music.
C. Anxiety, stress and/or anger. Recent brain scanning research points towards enlarged Amygdala’s role in intense emotions, anxiety and anger
D. May have auditory processing issues
E. May have Irlen Syndrome
F. May grind teeth or have lockjaw (anxiety)
G. May have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or traits
H. May have one or more of the 7 types of ADHD (see http://www.amenclinics.com)
I. Usually has executive function difficulties (i.e., time management, planning ahead, organization)
J. May rock, leg-bounce, fidget or other movements with hands, twirl hair, stroke soft fabric to self-soothe (aka stimming)
K. May be very sensitive to medications, caffeine and/or alcohol
L. May have gluten, wheat, casein or other food allergies/intolerances, gut issues
M. May have sleep difficulties, a preference for staying up late at night, usually not a morning person
N. May have Dyspraxia
O. May have tics (for example, throat-clearing, coughing)
7. Physical Appearance
Usually dresses differently from her peers, often eccentric, may dress more for comfort than appearance.
May dress “over the top” or unusually for occasions
May try very hard to fit in appearance wise or may not care at all
May not shower or upkeep hygiene at times, due to different priorities (usually being involved in special interests)
Looks younger than her years
Has an unusual voice; may be “child-like”, monotone, loud or soft, quality to her voice
Often does certain things with hands (twirling hair or items, different movements) or legs (leg “bouncing” or rocking while standing)
Books, computers, the Internet, animals, children, nature may be her best friends
She loves quiet, solitude, peaceful surroundings
She may be ultra-religious or not at all. Buddhism appears to be common
May prefer to spend as much time as possible by herself, with animals or in nature
May have a strong preference for routine and things being the same day after day
Gets pleasure from being engaged in her chosen work and/or special interests
She may make it a high priority to arrange her life, events, work, and environment to avoid overwhelming, stressful or upsetting situations
9. Relationship Choices/Sexuality/Gender
May date or marry much older or much younger partners, same gender partner, tending not to see the “age”, “gender”, but rather the personality of the person first
May be asexual, having preferences that are deemed as more important than sex or a relationship
May be ‘hypersexual”, fascinated by physical sexual contact
May differ from peers in terms of flexibility regarding sexual orientation or may think about or want to change gender. Some individuals may change gender or experiment with sexuality as a means to find social success or to “fit in” or feel less different
May not have wanted or needed intimate relationships (asexual)
There is a greater flexibility in sexuality and/or gender. May be heterosexual or may be asexual, gay, bi-sexual or transgender.
10. Special Interests
A special interest may involve the person’s career, fantasy, writing, animals, reading, celebrities, food, fashion, jewellery, make up, tattoos, symbols, to name a few
Ability to “hyperfocus” for long periods of time involved in the special interest, without eating, drinking or going to the toilet, is able to hyperfocus on her special interest for hours, often losing track of time
Loves and revels in solitude, peace and quiet. Solitude is often described as “needing it like the air I breathe”
An intense love for nature and animals
Often not interested in what other people find interesting
May collect or hoard items of interest
Feels things deeply
Other people’s moods affect her, especially if they are negative
Tends to be very sensitive to emotional pain
Deeply moved by arts, music, certain movies
May be unable to watch horror, violence, disturbing movies, and news programs
Lives with continual generalized anxiety, bouts of depression that creep up on her
Difficulty regulating emotions and managing stress
Is socially and emotionally younger/immature than her chronological age, much younger if in her twenties
Emotionally too honest (inability or difficulty hiding true feelings when it would be more socially acceptable to do so) and naive
Experiences intense emotions of all kinds (for e.g. when she falls in love, she ‘falls’ in love deeply)
May think she is being compassionate, but her actions may not come across that way
Often too sensitive and possesses a lot of empathy
Usually connect and/or are very sensitive to certain characters in movies
Highly sensitive to issues affecting earth, animals, people, advocacy, justice, human rights and the “underdog”
Some women are quite “child-like”, not reaching a maturity until roughly 40 years of age
12. Personality characteristics and/or traits and abilities
A natural born leader, independent, strong-willed, determined and can be highly competitive (even with herself)
High levels of introversion OR can be extroverted
Generally lack a strong sense of self, self-esteem and/or identity. May use chameleon-like skills to assimilate and be involved with to a variety of groups or different people over time, in a search for true identity.
Has a high sense of justice and fairness, is a truth-seeker
Highly creative and may have ‘rushes’ of original ideas
Dislikes change and may find it disorienting and stressful
Highly sensitive to criticism or perceived criticism
Dislikes being observed when having to perform (performance anxiety)
May have been told she cares to much, does too much for others and/or is too sensitive
Is perfectionistic (may have attended a perfectionism group program)
Attention to detail
Obsessions/special interests can be short-term (switching from one to another quickly) or long-term (can make a great career)
Naivety, innocence, trusting too much and taking others literally are a powerful concoction for being misused and abused
A strong sense of feeling different from her peers, often described as being from a different planet
May not have a sense of self and/or identity, self-esteem
Tend to be very serious, often too serious at times
Is intense in everything she does
In childhood, may have been described as highly sensitive and/or shy
13. Past and/or current mental health history
May have a history of crying a lot, without knowing why
May have a lengthy history of going to therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists
May have tried a variety of medications,
Experiences social anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder
May have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or traits
May have one or more of the 6 types of ADHD
Has experienced ongoing depression and/or tiredness/exhaustion, without knowing why
A history of trying to understand oneself, of finding answers to explain one-self and why she feels she is different or doesn’t fit in, as a woman
A history of many doctors and counsellors visits throughout university life
May have a family history of Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD, OCD, anxiety disorders
May be been misdiagnosed with bi-polar disorder, borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia
May have been previously diagnosed with anxiety disorder depression, an eating disorder, borderline personality disorder, bi-polar disorder and/or ADHD
A history of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, mood swings
14. Coping Mechanisms
May have turned to alcohol, drugs, smoking in order to cope with intense emotions, self-medicate and/or socialize/fit in and/or be accepted with a group.
May use a different persona when out in the public, in order to cope
May have developed a variety of dysfunctional coping mechanisms (for example, arrogance and/or narcissism)
May change gender or sexuality in an attempt to “fit it” and/or find the right group
Has used imitation, social echolalia to pretend to be normal, fake it or pass for normal
May rock standing up, lying down, in a rocking chair to calm down or self-soothe
May need to withdraw into bed or a dark area or a place of solitude to gain privacy, quiet and manage sensory and/or social overload
Withdrawal and/or Avoidance
May have developed a personality disorder as a means of coping with Asperger Syndrome
15. Sixth Sense, Intuition, Psychic Abilities
Has the ability to feel other people emotions
May “know” or have knowledge of certain things, but no idea how she knows
May be a professional psychic or medium
Possesses one or more psychic abilities
Is an “empath”
16. Unique abilities and Strengths
Intelligence, craves knowledge and loves learning
Can teach herself just about anything she puts her mind too
Has a strong will, is determined and independent
Have a remarkable long-term memory, photographic memory
A great sense of humour
Can work very well in a “crisis” situation
Deeply reflective thinker
Resilience, an ability to go from one crisis to another, to bounce back, to start again time and time again
Attention to detail
Great in one-on-one situations or presenting to a group
More like “philosophers” than “professors, but can be both.
Seeing in the “mind’s eye” exact details, gifted visual learner
May be gifted with art, music, writing, languages
Capable of deep philosophical thinking, females with Aspergers often beceome writers, poets, artists, singers, performers, actresses or professors.
May be difficult to understand subtle emotions, for e.g., when someone is jealous or embarrassed, uninterested or bored
Keeping up appearances, passing for normal
May get very upset with unexpected change
May not be able to tell when someone is flirting with her
Challenging to work and function within a group
Great difficulty and very sensitive to conflict, stress, arguments, fighting, wars, gossip and negativity
Social-chit chat, small talk, conversation without a “function”, maintaining friendships and relationships, social anxiety or social phobia
May like or prefer to be by herself as much as possible
May find it challenging to understand what others expect of her
Being taken advantage of due to naivety, innocence and trusting others too much
Boundaries (usually when younger)
May have difficulty filling out forms, doing paperwork (completing taxes), budgeting money
May have difficulty recognizing or remembering faces (prosopagnosia)
18. Empathy May have a lack of cognitive empathy and hyperempathy (for e.g., too much affective empathy)
Cognitive Empathy: The ability to predict other’s thoughts and intentions, knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. Also known as perspective-taking.
Affective/Emotional Empathy: The ability or capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another person, when you feel the feelings of another person along with the other person, as though their emotions are your own. Social neuroscience has found that this kind of empathy has to do with the mirror neuron system. Emotional empathy contributes to an individual being well-attuned to another person’s inner emotional world, an advantage for individuals in a wide range of careers from nursing to teaching to social work, psychology and other caring professions.
Compassionate Empathy, or “empathic concern”. This kind of empathy helps us to understand a person’s predicament and feel with them, and also be spontaneously moved to help them, if and when other need help. Under stress, Theory of mind skills may appear to be completely absent.
19. May have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome
20. May have an intense desire to please others and/ be liked by others. May become highly distressed if she has the perception that someone does not like her or actually does not like her.
21. Executive functioning difficulties may include: trouble making decisions, time management, planning ahead, organization, completing tasks.
22. May have spend a lifetime of using enormous effort to socially “pretend”, “fake it”, “fit in”, “pass for normal”. May have utilized body language books, mirrors, acting/drama classes to improve social skills.
23. May have tocophobia, the fear of childbirth
24. May have gender dysphoria, also known as gender identity disorder (GID) dysphoria, and is a formal diagnosis for individuals who feel and experience significant stress and unhappiness with their birth gender and/or gender roles. These individuals are known as transsexual or transgender.
25. Photographic visual memory
No one woman will have all of these traits. Some of the traits in this list may not apply to you. A level of insight and awareness is required in terms of recognizing the traits, characteristics and behaviors in oneself. Asperger Syndrome often co-occurs with Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, Irlen Syndrome, Dyspraxia/Disability of Written Expression, Auditory Processing Disorder and/or Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Individual traits and characteristics can vary from mild to severe.
25. An intense and continual need to figure oneself out.
26. Subtypes – Coming Soon!
About Tania Marshall
Tania is working on her Doctorate/PhD in Autism Studies, specializing in females with Autism. She holds a Masters of Science in Applied Psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. She regularly provides diagnostic assessments, support and intervention.
To enquire or book assessments, problem solving sessions and/or support, please e-mail Tania at email@example.com
Tania is also completing the first three in a series of books on female Autism. Her book series is available for purchase at http://www.aspiengirl.com
To enquire about interviews, articles, workshops, or translations/translating of her books, please email Tania at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tania Marshall©, 2013-2014. All rights reserved. Aspiengirl and Planet Aspien are trademarked. Thank you.