The Female Autism Crisis: Assessment and Diagnosis of the Neurodiverse

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Updated February 18th, 2017

This is a sample of the book entitled Behind The Mask and is therefore under copyright law. Behind The Mask give voice to neurodiverse females and discusses the assessment diagnosis and support of females on the Spectrum.

Tania Marshall, M.Sc. is available for diagnostic impressions reports, assessment, diagnosis and intervention, support and problem-solving sessions in-person and/or via Skype. All queries, please email admin@centreforautism.com.au

I chose to write my book series after numerous requests for information on the topic. I also chose to self-publish, so that I can regularly update my work, keep my work current with the speed and amount of the research in the area (a challenge to keep up with for a professionals in the area), keeping my work fresh, current and in real time, rather than a long waiting period and being out-dated.

Over my career, I have I worked with hundreds of neurodiverse, Gifted and Talented, and 2e individuals.They may have labels that consist of Autism, Aspergers, Non-Verbal Learning Disability, Twice-Exceptionality, Semantic-Pragmatic Language Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Bi-Polar Disorder, and many more. Irregardless of the ‘label’, these individuals have many significant strengths, gifts, abilites and/or talents, and this topic is discussed in ‘ AspienPowers’.

In working with neurodiverse individual across the lifespan, I have written and spoken about and or refer the ‘female autism crisis’. There are many factors involved, some of which include:  a lack of professionals trained in the area, gender differences, the female autism bias and the lack of assessment tools.  We are a long way from developing efficient tools for assessing neurodiverse girls and woman. The following slide is from the Recent presentation review of key measures, gender and autism at the 2016 XI Autism-Europe International Congress and shows that the ADOS/ADOS-2, the ADI-R and the SCQ favor males. This is a real problem and a crisis because these are the very tools that many professionals use when they assess females. They are sometimes a cause of females flying under the radar of a professional.

I have been referred many females who have had these tools previously completed on them and have not been given a diagnosis. This can be due to the tools inability to measure the subtle signs, client masking, compensatory mechanisms and strategies and/or the even the rigidness of the professional in using the tool or the over-reliance of using these tools versus asking the right questions and looking for the subtle signs in body language, facial expressions, asking the right social questions, evaluating areas such as context blindness, synaesthesia, Irlen Syndrome, sensory processing issues, and more.

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In assessing girls on the Spectrum, it is important to ask the right questions. I cannot emphasise this enough. There are many questions to ask and what follows are some examples. Keep in mind that high average to profoundly intelligent girls can tell you the socially acceptable answers, but they are unable to actually perform those unwritten social rules or if they can, they are not as fast at it as their peers or it comes off as just slightly awkward.

Many girls and women with Asperger Syndrome or Autism have a tendency to be over-loyal and over-trusting, have a lot of emotional empathy, often just ‘seeing’ that a person needs help or saying they person needs help and taking things literally or not being able to ‘see’ the social context of a situation (for example, bringing home a homeless man because he has no home or food, yet not seeing the inherent dangers in doing this).

  1. What is bullying? What is teasing? What is bitchiness? How do you know the differences? When should you help someone? When shouldn’t you help someone?
  2. Sample questions in the area of friendship friendship should consist of: What is a good friend? What are some healthy ways of making and keeping friends? How long does it take to make and keep a best friend? Who are your friends? How do you know they are your friends? Do your friends try to get you to do things you dont feel is the right thing or that you feel uncomfortable with? (For example, do they try to get you to do your their homework, reports school work? Do they get you to buy things for them? Do they try to get you into trouble (for example, do they say they’ll be your friend if you do something for them?) What do you do at lunchtime? What do you do with your friends? What kinds of activities do you do with your friends? Do you prefer one best friend or a few friends? How long have you known your friend/friends for? Do they come stay over at you house and vice versa (if applicable). What do you talk about with your friend(s)? Professional Tip: Try to find out if the conversations are more one-sided or are they reciprocal, that is the conversation takes turns; it is a two way street rather than just a one person conversation involving 2 or more people.
  3. Sample Questions of play or hanging out may involve: How often do you play it hang our with your best friend/friends? Who initiates the play? Do you ask your friends to come over? Do they ask you to come over? Professional Tip: Often girls will text or cling too much to a girl, often driving them away.
  4. Does the girl or teen understand the social hierarchy? Do they understand how groups in school work? Do they understand the role the group members play? Why do you think the girls at school engage in these behaviors?
  5. Why is it important to keep a promise? Should every promise be kept?
  6. Why is it important to apologize when you’ve hurt someone? Professional Tip: Some girls adamantly refuse to apologize and some girls over-apologize.
  7. How do you know if someone is trying to get you into trouble? How do you know who you can and cannot trust as a friend?
  8. How do you know a particular person is safe to have as a friend? What kinds of clues might alert you that this person is dangerous? How would you know you are being taken advantage of?
  9. What are boundaries? How do you enforce a boundary?
  10. Do you prefer one-on-one friendships or hanging out in a group?
  11. Do you feel anxious around other girls? Girls often internalize their anxiety and can hide it very well. For those girls that are unable to “hold it in”, they may receive a diagnosis earlier than other girls. Remember that is it common for girls to be unable to explain why they are having difficulty in a social situation. They do often discuss not feeling well or may speak of feeling sick, feeling nervous or scared. They may often be in the sick bay.
  12. How long can you socialize for? Do you feel like you need a break? Does socializing make you tired?
  13. Teenagers with Aspergers often have eating disorders, an escalation of anxiety and depression and/or self-harm. Asking these questions is important. Investigating self-harm is also important. Girls are very good at hiding their cutting. Demand Avoidance is commonly seen in girls and women with Aspergers. Avoiding demands is caused by anxiety and/or not knowing how to do the task at hand and /or being embarrassed or socially anxious about a task. This is context-dependent and can look like making up excuses as to why she cannot do something that you know she can do to refusal to do something asked of her to refusing to comply with requests by an adult to avoiding the social playground.
  14. Many girl and women have a flat affect on their face, so that family members or professionals cannot tell how they are feeling.
  15. Some girls and women have Alexythymia and/or Faceblindness. Most experience extreme emotions and some girls may receive a diagnosis earlier than others to their meltdowns and/or violence.
  16. Many, if not all girls and women mis-interpret social situations (for e.g., “none of the teachers or kids at school like me”). Upon further investigation/assessment, it is found out that the individual misinterpreted facial expressions and social context, in an assessment.
  17. An assessment should involve reading of the eyes to see how well an individual can read non-verbal facial expressions from the eyes.
  18. An assessment may include listening to a variety of different tones of voice to see if the individual can distinguish the underlying feeling behind the tone.
  19. An assessment should also investigate other senses (both sensory issues and emotional empathy or “empath” characteristics). These questions need to be asked in a certain way as many females are literal, so a careful exploration is essential. An investigation of synaesthesia may be warranted.
  20. An assessment should also explore social naivety, the differences between lying and ‘white lies’, ‘pink lies’, social diplomacy, social tact and theory of mind.
  21. For teens and women, how do you know when someone is flirting with you or wants to go on a date with you? Do you know how to diplomatically reject the advance of another person? Professional Tip: Assertiveness training is essential for many females.
  22. In relation to gender and sexuality, a smaller group of girls (and boys) feel confused by their gender, and this can range from mild to severe. A thorough exploration of this issue often finds the individual relating better to the opposite gender, with girls getting along better with boys, being androgynous and/or Tomboy-like, and boys seeing other females as very socially successful and appearing to have lots of friends. Sometimes, an individual in their search for why they are different or why the social aspect of their life are so much more work for them, then come to the conclusion, for a variety of reasons (the feeling that others do not like or accept them, they do not like themselves, always having that feeling of being “different” to their peers), that they may have been born in the wrong body (they may be able to have more friends or be liked more, feel more accepted, feel “better” inside their body, be happier within themselves and within their family, be socially better or more popular), if they change their gender or their sexuality. Rarely, does changing one’s gender or sexuality fix the underlying social communication and identity issues, including being bullied, ignored or excluded and/or self-esteem challenges. Depending on how rigid or black and white the person is in their thinking, this can be a challenging issue to work on with the person.
  23. An exploration of identity in teenagers and women is important. This is because, over time, an assimilation of other people’s characteristics traits, voices, accents, behaviors has occurred, in addition to what others and society expect of them and from them. This high price (masking) often leads to a complete loss of identity.
  24. Many professionals are not aware that females can and do make eye contact, do make superficial conversation for short periods of time, and can have friends.
  25. Many professionals are unaware of the variety of sub-type presentations of girls across the Spectrum, with the ‘princess’ or ‘supermodel’ type, and/or those with higher intelligence, being the ones to be least diagnosed or diagnosed at a much later age. They are often Twice-exceptional (2e) individuals and blend in very well.
  26. Strengths and abilities are often overlooked due to the “presenting problem(s)”. Once these are addressed, then can an individual’s true gifts (for example, perfect pitch, artistic creativity, acting, dancing, programming, languages, just to name a few) can be nurtured and evolve into careers.
  27. Individuals on the Spectrum can and do lie, just like anyone else does. They dont do it as well as their peers and the reasons for lying may be different
  28. In terms of friendships, females are able to make friends, however they can often have a challenging time keeping them.
  29. A females sense of justice and high moral compass can be a clue and some females have been known to take their enlarged justice glands too far in their causes.
  30. Females with social problems often use their intelligence (sometimes quite successfully) to compensate for their lack of social skills, often falling into leadership roles, caring roles, teaching roles, acting roles, lawyers, professors, amongst other, where social reciprocity is least expected and social scripts (and slides!) can be adhered too.

Briefly, what we need to be asking are the right questions, looking and searching for and asking about questions that have to do with social confusion, camouflaging (how are the hiding it?), compensatory mechanisms (strategies they use to attempt to fit in, hide their confusion), eating disorders, gender, sexuality (if appropriate) and identity issues.

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This is a sample chapter of ‘Behind The Mask’, and is therefore under copyright law. In Part I of this book, it  explores the narratives and themes of the neurodiverse female clients that Tania has worked with over the course of her 20-year career. Part II includes chapters on assessment, diagnosis, how to explain the diagnosis, what next and support and intervention. For more information on female neurodiversity, go to:

http://www.aspiengirl.com

http://www.taniamarshall.com

Copyright 2014-2017 © All rights reserved. Duplication in whole or part is explicitly forbidden. Thank you.

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The Neurodiversity of Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Females

The following article is copyrighted and may not be posted anywhere without permission from the author.

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In working with females (and males) on the Spectrum for approximately 20 years, I have learned a lot from my clients. When I first started out as a psychologist, I was seeing female on the Spectrum; they just were not called or labeled that back then. In working with hundreds of females, it is safe to say that there is much neurodiversity within this group. This is extremely important to talk about because these are their narratives.

By this, I mean that there exist varying presentations of girls and women on the Spectrum. Some are easier to diagnose than others. This is due to temperament, personality type, the severity or mildness of the person's specific Autistic traits, how many traits they have, gender differences, how much the traits impact on their ability to function, other conditions or disorders and much more.

Due to a variety of lagging skills and/or differences, many females with Autism do not get along with each other, yet many do, just like neurotypical people. Many females with mild symptoms are unable to get a diagnosis, even though their traits and exhaustion impact them on a cyclical basis. Those with the subtle traits usually never receive a diagnosis.

Now that I have worked with thousands of women, they have taught and shown me through their narratives, just how different they are from each other. It is important to discuss this issue so that no more females are left behind.

Stereotypes exist due to the history of Autism and describing boys rather than girls certainly comes into play. Other stereotypes include cultural perceptions and the social focus of culturally "female" interests. So, assessments based on males and cultural perceptions and biases are certainly factors. In my work, I have seen the stereotype of the "Tomboy" play a part in other females with a different presentation not receive a referral for an assessment or a diagnosis.

The use of a social mask, compensatory mechanisms, level of intelligence (for example, being 2e), being able to get by in life day to day and then have cyclical breakdowns, and the subtle differences all contribute to a delay in diagnosis or a misdiagnosis. These differences mixed in with genetics, temperament, personality, co-existing conditions, family environment and upbringing all impact and affect how Autism presents in a female (and male).

Subtypes or presentations are extremely important to understand if one is to be trained appropriately. It is imperative to understand how many different ways a female on the Spectrum can present to a clinician. A diagnosis is critical, not only for self-understanding; but for support, services, and academic accommodations. I am talking about how girls and women have presented themselves in my clinic over 20 years, from a variety of countries and cultures. This blog is but a small part of my book entitled, "Behind The Mask" due 2017.

There are a few ways that females on the Spectrum adopt a role. In particular, if they really want to fit in and conform with society. There exist some common types or sub-types of women on the Autism Spectrum. The reason this is important is so that, as I said before, no females are left behind, and that professionals are trained in the various presentations so that they do not miss a female and also to educate the wider population about the neurodiversity of neurodiversity itself! So, let's discuss just a few presentations:

TheTomboy is usually indifferent to gender, preferring to have boys for friends and dress in an androgynous way or dress in boys clothes. She finds it much easier to talk to boys (or men). However, some individuals have gender dysphoria and this is not to be taken lightly.

The Academic superstar uses her intelligence to achieve degrees, awards, honors and more. She has an intelligence above 130, qualifying for MENSA, and has used her intelligence to get through social situations. The higher the giftedness, the more different the presentation may appear.

The Passive female is a people pleaser. She is shy, quiet, cooperative, rarely asks for help and compliant, too compliant, and blends into the wall (in the classroom or at school). She rarely stands up to bullies and is often taken advantage of.

The Aggressivefemale has often had a history of misunderstanding and misinterpretations, both ways; on her part and on others parts. She often misinterprets others, burns bridges, is impulsive and is the type most often associated with or been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD traits.

The Scientific female may have a special interest in physics and/or Quantum Physics, mathematics, chemistry, animal sciences, biology or space, programming, just to name a few. Often, this type of woman is quite focused on their topic of interest and reaching high levels of distinction (a Masters or PhD).

TheStyleIcon is aware, even overly aware of style and fashion. She may work in fashion design, be an actor or a supermodel. She has got the outfits, makeup, hairstyles and appearance perfect. Her appearance tends to intimidate males and females, who are threatened by her appearance, presence or knowledge of the fashion and stylist world. She grasps small talk, making her appear to be neurotypical and allowing her to cope in social situations and fit in with her peers. Even if her appearance is eccentric, she gets away with it due to her other talents; whether they be a singer, a costume designer, an actor or DJ.

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The Housewife or Cook loves to entertain and is very good at it. She is whom people want to hire for their home. She loves to have people over, but remains the ultimate host, so as not to have to socialise with others. 

TheArtist gets away with being different or eccentric because society expects them to be that way, so in this way, they often remain undiagnosed until they fall off the rails. they may be the more eccentric painters, writers, actors, supermodels, singers, and band members.

TheJusticeWarrior is obsessed with justice, fairness, and right and wrong. These are admirable traits, but not when it turns into obsession, misguidedness or inappropriate recruiting of members. Some women (and men) are 'one woman' groups because others do not want to join their cause due to the social way they attempt to get others to join their cause. These people end up starting their cause over and over again. It is true (although some may not like to admit it) that some women (or men or neurotypicals) have a “misguided sense of social justice”, going too far or the wrong way of going about their crusade. There is a socially appropriate way to get people to join your cause. I have met clients (both neurodiverse and neurotypical) who have gotten into trouble with the law or are in jail because of their enlarged justice gland, lack of social context and impulsivity.

In summary, this is just a brief look at how girls and women experience Autism and the variety that exists in presentation. There are other presentations that will be discussed in my book. Girls and women vary differently from each other and also differ in their ability of lack of ability to use compensatory mechanism and/or coping mechanisms. They also vary in intelligence levels. Those who are both Autistic and Gifted have a different presentation. However; they all share the same core challenges (from mild to severe) and some remarkable strengths or gifts.

This blog is written to address the neurodiversity with a large group of females and has nothing to do with sexism or ableism, nor that neurotypicals cannot have the same careers. Most importantly, it is imperative that we understand the differences in neurodiverse females, the different ways they cope or not cope, and the different ways they present.

Within the Neurodiverse population, there is no particular way to be a girl or a woman. Many of my clients have all kinds of preferences and interests, including my Lego pens sets. Many of my clients have a wide and varied style of clothing, from fashion to boys clothes to Victorian clothing to gender-neutral clothing to completely loving being in a princess Tulle dress or an Elf costume. Some of my clients wear "boy" clothing and "girl clothing". Some like cargo pants, some like dresses and/or corsets, some like dressing up in their favorite character, some love femininity and some do not and many like books, stationery, dolls, and theater.

Finally, the purpose of writing about presentations is to leave no female out; to never exclude not even one female. We understand the neurotypical world (to the degree that we do), but we are only on the cusp of learning about the neurodiverse female world and what this group are truly capable of, when given the right support. This is about understanding females on the Spectrum and then designing appropriate interventions according to their presentation. For example, the passive presentation will need assertiveness training whereas a different social type will need a different intervention. It would be unfruitful to put all females in the same social skills or intervention group.

Whilst these girls and women are different, they all share the same common core characteristics, that of social, emotional, cognitive, sensory, intelligence differences, in addition to other co-existing disorders or conditions. This makes for complex presentations. By no means can one type be put in a box. A female can be 2 or 3 types or morph into all types throughout their life-time.

These are just some of the various ways that Autism presents, how some females may present and how they may cope with having a different brain. Autism influences many factors and all types and interests are just as important as each other. We need as many different brains and as many different neurodiverse females as possible. We also need to know the differences in presentation, so that we can now design and implement the right support and intervention for the right girl or woman.

Neurodiverse girls and women have much to offer, regardless of neurotype, interests, dress, differences and/or similarities. There are no stereotypes, just a variety of presentations and profiles, all valid and all very special.

#nomoreemalesleftbehind #beyourownsuperhero #aspiengirl #aspienwoman #aspienpowers #behindthemask

Behind the Mask 3D

Copyright 2017 Tania A. Marshall http://www.aspiengirl.com http://www.taniamarshall.com

No part of this may be used, reproduced, borrowed or copied. This is an excerpt from Behind The Mask

AspienGirl.com is pleased to be nominated for a 2017 ASPECT Autism Australia Award

AspienGirl.com is pleased to be nominated for a 2017 ASPECT Autism Australia Award in the Advancement Category, for advancing the area of female Autism. AspienGirl.com advocates for neurodivergent females, educating and bringing a strengths-based awareness about the autistic female presentation/profile, and contributes to its’ goal of “no more AspienGirls left behind” and “Be your own superhero”, being the best version of yourself. Females will continue to be misdiagnosed, mis-medicated and/or receive the wrong interventions, until research is conducted on females, female-based screening and diagnostic tools are created, gender differences are clearly understood, and female-specific interventions and professionals are trained to assess, diagnose and work with females. In order to assist in getting closer to these goals, the AspienGirl Project was created and has already donated 450 books and will continue to donate a certain percentage of its profits to sending out free books and resources to professionals, schools, teachers, special needs coordinators, libraries, and Autism organizations.

 

 

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Social Media

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Tania Marshall, M.Sc., AMAPS, is an international best selling author, psychologist, publisher, educator, 3X and most recently 2017 ASPECT Autism Australia National Recognition Award Nominee (Advancement Category), recognized for her work in advancing the field of female Autism. Her first book, entitled “I Am AspienGirl©: The Unique Characteristics, Traits and Strengths of Young Females on the Autism Spectrum”, foreword by Dr. Judith Gould, won an IPPY eLIT Gold Medal Award in 2015 and is an Amazon best seller. I am AspienGirl has been translated into Spanish and is entitled Soy AspienGirl. She currently works with the gifted and talented, celebrities, performing artists, and twice-exceptional and/or neurodiverse individuals, across the lifespan. Tania was recently interviewed by Dr. Harold Reitman in a 2 part series by Different Brains, where Part I can be found here: http://differentbrains.com/aspiengirl-embracing-strengths-women-aspergers-syndrome-tania-marshall-edb-51/ and Part II here http://differentbrains.com/gender-differences-neurodiversity-recognizing-diversity-within-autism-spectrum-tania-marshall-edb-54/

Tania can be reached at admin@centreforautism.com for assessments, telepsychology (Skype) or clinic consultations, interviews, presentations, workshops, and/or conferences, translation inquiries, collaborations, publishing/book and/or media inquiries. She is an Australian Psychological Association (APS) Autism Identified Medicare Provider, a Helping Children With Autism Early Intervention Service Provider (HWCA), a Better Start Early Intervention Provider, a Medicare Approved Mental Health Provider and a Secret Agent Society (SAS) Trained Group Facilitator.

Copyright 2016-2017 Tania Marshall

I Am AspienWoman wins a 2016 IPPY eLit Gold Medal Award!

The AspienGirl Project is pleased to announce that the sequel to ‘I am Aspiengirl’ entitled ‘I Am AspienWoman’ recently won a 2016 IPPY eLit Gold Medal Award in the “Women’s  Category” in April. I am AspienWoman is the culmination of a blog Tania wrote a couple of years ago entitled ‘Moving Towards a female profile of Asperger Syndrome’, with close to 300,000 views, to date. That blog is regularly updated. You may purchase copies at http://www.aspiengirl.com, Amazon or other fine books stores.

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AspienWoman April Elit Award1

 

2016 Award Announcements

Tania spends her professional time in private practice. She provides diagnostic assessment impressions reports regularly (across the lifespan), and provides interventions and support. For more information regarding diagnosis and assessment, bookstore wholesale discounts, book contracts, interviews, translations, workshops and conferences, please email admin@centreforautism.com.au

 

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Myths, barriers and reasons females may be unable to obtain an Autism diagnosis

 

Currently, I am writing two books, “AspienPowers” and “Behind the Mask”. Quite often, as I am writing, certain memories or themes from my years of work come to the forefront of my mind. In my clinic work with individuals who are discussing their history’s or reasons they are seeking a diagnosis, I have come across a variety of barriers (other than cost) to a diagnosis. I also discuss briefly in my second best selling book I am Aspienwoman that other people may not believe the person once they receive a diagnosis.

Briefly, these include:

“My doctor told me I am a professional working woman so I couldn’t possibly have Autism/Aspergers”.

“I was told I have children, am a good mother and am functioning quite well, so why would I want a diagnosis? He refused to refer me”.

“I went in for an assessment and they gave me child assessment forms to fill out. I couldn’t answer most of the questions”.

“The majority of professionals I called said they only work with children”.

“My psychiatrist said I make great eye contact and talk well with him, so I couldn’t have Autism/Aspergers”.

“The local Autism Society had no-one they could recommend who was trained and experienced in working with Autistic females”.

“The professional I went to see said I couldn’t have Aspergers because it is no longer in the DSM5”.

“The professional I see said I only have anxiety, depression and social anxiety which I have had all my life (from birth). I tried to explain the sensory issues, my Irlen Syndrome and my gender fluidity, to no avail”.

“Ï was told I am a professional actress, making money and working and that I did not fit the profile (the male profile) of Autism/Aspergers”.

“I was told I present too well to have Autism/Aspergers. I am a professional model and I love make-up, clothes, fashion design and shoes, but I have always had social problems. I was told because I am well  liked by others that I could not possibly have Autism/Aspergers”.

“I was told by a professional that Autism/Aspergers is a ‘male’ thing”.

“I was told I have Social Communication Disorder and that’s all. I know that’s not all I have, so I am going for a second opinion”.

“I was told I am too social and therefore it’s impossible for me to have Autism”.

“I didn’t/don’t know how to drop my mask (with my psychologist) and only managed to get an anxiety diagnosis”.

“I have spent so much time teaching myself social skills, reading books on social skills, going to drama classes, that no-one believed me until I saved my money up and saw someone who is both a psychologist (and has worked with many females) and an author (writes about females)  for many years”.

“My daughter met two of the 3 criteria on the ADOS but has no RRP’s, so she did not receive a diagnosis”

“They said my daughter has some traits but not enough, so she now has a label of ‘Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder'”

“My daughter is a Jekyll and Hyde and did not receive a diagnosis because she is so well-behaved at school”

To Be Continued…more coming soon

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For more information of female Autism, please go to:

http://www.aspiengirl.com

http://www.taniamarshall.com

Free webinar The female Autism Conundrum

http://www.autisminpink.net

To contact Tania for fee-based impressions assessment/diagnosis, consultations, media interviews/inquiries, workshops and.or conferences, book reviews, translations, please email Tania at tania@aspiengirl.com

 

Copyright Tania Marshall, 2014-2016

On the bright end of the Spectrum and the female Autism crisis

On the Bright end of the Autism Spectrum and the female Autism Crisis: How and Why Do Bright Autistic Females fly under Professional Radar?

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Female Autism is a new and complex area of research with information in this area of Autism growing exponentially. Both empirical studies and qualitative differences are starting to show show that females ‘meet the diagnostic criteria’ in different ways from males. This then leads to females being misdiagnosed, mistreated and/or medicated. In 2015 alone, there have been over 15 gender studies published regarding the differences between males and females. While research is starting to catch up with clinical and anecdotal research, the time it will take for this to trickle down to professionals and those at the ground level may take many years, with females continuing to be under diagnosed and/or misdiagnosed. Many girls and women exist today without a diagnosis. She may have even been assessed by a professional working in the area, but was told she did not meet the “criteria”. If a female can get an accurate diagnosis, she is then often left without intervention and/or support. This is what I call the ‘Female Autism Crisis’.

The ‘Female Autism Crisis’

There is a lack of awareness, understanding and education regarding the female profile or ‘phenotype’, a range of often subtler characteristics, strengths and challenges that do not fit the male profile nor does a female with a diagnosis of Autism feel she fits that profile Common characteristics have been outlined in my initial blogs which were then turned into my book series (bestsellers I Am Aspiengirl and I am AspienWoman).

There is a need for research on:

the differences between neurotypical girls and Autistic girls

camouflaging of autistic symptoms and impairments, adaptation, learning, masking or compensation abilities

diagnostic and classification challenges

the factors that increase or decrease the risk of a female being misdiagnosed or completely missed; the consequences associated with this

information as to how culture, social factors, gender and/or familial upbringing play a part in female Autism

Why do Autistic females fly under the professional radar and why will this continue to occur for some time?

  1. Autism was and still is presumed by many people, professionals included, to be a “male” condition. Some professionals acknowledge that females have Autism and may be unaware that males and females often present very differently.

2. Adherence to a very strict DSM5 criteria which has a gender bias. Whilst DSM 5 has hinted at sex differences in Autism, it does not acknowledge brighter individuals. It also does not elaborate much on what these actual differences are or whether there is a female profile or phenotype.

DSM-5 may better serve girls with autism

Unfortunately, some girls are now being diagnosed with the DSM5 Social Communication Disorder (SCD)

3. A female phenotype is emerging that suggests an inherent gender bias. The Sfari webinar entitled The Female Autism Conundrum  is a great place to start to understand this bias

The female autism conundrum

4. Professional ‘bias’

The child’s behaviors are more a function of the families “alternative” lifestyle

The child does not present with significant enough behaviors, appearing to be “normal” externally

The child does not present with the “male” stereotype or “female” stereotype of what Autism should look like

The childs anxiety, eating issues or behaviors are the focus and the diagnosis is missed

Strict adherence to the diagnostic criteria

5.The emerging female phenotype or profile

A steady collation of anecdotal, clinical and autobiographical reports and current research discuss different presentations, phenotypes or a “female profile” and when assessed with “male-biased” or male-centric tools, many females slip through the cracks. Females on the Autism Spectrum can and do hold eye contact and make superficial conversation. If fact, they can hold superficial conversation for an entire session with a professional!

The girl does not have stereotypical repetitive behaviors

1. There is a lack of assessment tools created for females across the lifespan. The ADOS often shows elevated traits, but not enough to meet the criteria for a diagnosis. Females are often missed because they do not meet the cut-off score, although there are often clues in the ADOS results. Females can have the ability to discuss many social-emotional areas by responding cognitively well. However, many parents, school officials, and/or professionals have found that those social-emotional areas are not often displayed or used adequately, and often then, see the individual using other strategies to cope. It appears that the characteristics and traits as captured by “gold standard” assessment tools may be male-biased due to the gender-centric items that contribute to the scoring. A further comprehensive assessment and/or a second opinion then reveals the individual does meet criteria for Autism or Asperger Syndrome.

2. Females often can and do engage in superficial conversation, make good eye contact and conversation, for the first initial session or hour. This can confuse professionals who are used to seeing particular social clues more immediately and who may think that a female is just “too social”.

3. A lack of understanding regarding coping strategies, compensatory strategies, masking behaviors and the more subtle presentations. Female body language can be expressed quite differently as they learn to act, pretend, mask and compensate for their social difficulties.

4. A lack of trained professionals working in the area of female autism

5. Confusion as to the diagnostic overshadowing, for example, whereby a female may be diagnosed may be told she is “shy” rather than “social anxiety”, may be diagnosed with an “eating disorder” rather than Autism.

6. A lack of understanding how females with Autism present across the lifespan

7. A lack of both quantitative and qualitative data and research regarding females

8. Co-occurring conditions can make assessment a complex and challenging process for diagnosticians working with adults. Whilst many adults have been or are misdiagnosed with a personality disorder, there are adults with both Autism and a personality disorder or those who have been misdiagnosed with Autism and really have a personality disorder

9. A lack of knowledge about the heterogeneity within the female group and the variance in how it presents. There exist different subgroups in females with Autism and range from a more “male” autism profile-type presentation (maybe diagnosed earlier) to those with many “masking” characteristics, where professionals or family members may not believe the person who is telling them about their diagnosis. The female group as a whole consists of much heterogeneity and thus females can present in sub-types (for example, a tomboy, a fashion princess, a bookworm professor type, the athlete). This further causes confusion for diagnosticians who are not familiar with the range of presentations within female Autism (often diagnosed much later, if at all). There is a tendency for an “obsession” to become the person’s identity.

10. For some young females, the need does not appear to be “obvious”, or the “issues” are misinterpreted, UNTIL the teenage years. Presenting concerns may be interpreted as another disorder or generalized. For example, “she’s just got some social issues”, “she”ll grow out of it”, “she is just shy”. Some females present with an eating disorder and Autism is never considered.

11. Some common misconceptions or myths about female Autism can contribute to this issue: “She can make friends, make eye contact and socialize, so she can’t have Autism” “She is too sensitive, so she can’t have Autism” “She holds down a full-time job, so she can’t have Autism” “She has too much empathy so she can’t have Autism”.

12. Females tend to exhibit better expressive behaviors (reciprocal conversation, sharing interests, integrating verbal/nonverbal behavior, imagination, adjusting their behavior by situation) despite similar social understanding difficulties as males), present with different manifestations of friendship difficulties (better initiation but problematic maintenance, overlooked rather than rejected by peers, better self-perceived and parent-reported friendship), and different types of restricted interests and less repetitive use of objects.

13. Some common female differences include: less repetitive behaviors, a greater awareness of the pressure and desire for social interaction, a passive personality, often perceived as “shy”, a “loner”, a tendency to imitate others (copy, mimic, or mask) in social settings, a tendency for social exhaustion (or as I like to call it a “social hangover”), a tendency to “camouflage” their difficulties by masking and/or developing strategies to compensate for the challenges and difficulties they are facing, a tendency to have 1 or few close friendships, a tendency to be “mothered” in a peer group in primary school, BUT often bullied in secondary/high school.

14. There appear to be better linguistic abilities, more imagination (fantasizing and spending time involved in fiction and pretend play and when observed closely the play can be observed to have a lack of reciprocity, to be scripted and/or controlling.

15. Less restricted interests/activities tend to be common involving people and/or animals rather than objects/things (e.g., animals, stationary, soap operas, celebrities, pop music, fashion, horses, pets, and books/literature), which may be seen as less recognized as related to autism. She may be viewed pr perceived as just a “moody bookworm”.

16. A lack of understanding sensory sensitivities and how they impact the ability to function from day to day. An individual may not be able to explain what they are experiencing. In particular, professionals may be more likely to view an individuals’ comments about how they perceive the world as “psychotic”, rather than sensory processing disorder or sensory sensitivities.

17. Diagnostic confusion and not asking the right questions or clarifying what the client has said, can lead to misdiagnosis. Many adult women have multiple labels or diagnoses before they receive the correct diagnosis. As mentioned previously, a lack of understanding as to how sensory sensitivities affect an individual can lead to misdiagnosis. Having a fantasy world and imaginary friends or animals can lead professionals to suspect prodromal schizophrenia in a girl or adolescent. A girl who has developed routines and rituals around food and calories, nutrition and/or exercise may be diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa and the Asperger Syndrome is missed. Borderline Personality Disorder is a common misdiagnosis with females usually not fitting neatly in the diagnostic criteria. Furthur complications include individuals who meet criteria for both Autism and a personality disorder.

Professionals may not understand that many females have the ability to “feel” other people’s feelings and this can be quite overwhelming for them. They may not trust talking about their hyperempathy, hence they will  be misunderstood. Females may not trust other people due to the ‘cognitive dissonance’ between non-verbal body language and what she “feels” off the person. In combination with social and relationship challenges, her behaviors look like Borderline traits or Borderline Personality Disorder.

Until professionals catch up with current research on females, they will continue to be diagnosed and/or misdiagnosed with:

Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety

Eating Disorders

The new DSM5 diagnosis of Social Communication Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Schizophrenia or Schizotypal personality disorder

18. Cultural bias can leads to under-identification. For e.g., some immigrant women have been unable to gain an assessment as their differences in communication and behavior are not seen or viewed as unusual, but more of a ‘cultural’ difference

Even if a girl has subtler difficulties than other children with the disorder, those problems may nevertheless have a tremendous impact on her life.

Girls appear to use their intelligence and their abilities to to learn quickly how to combine non-verbal and verbal behaviors in addition to maintaining a reciprocal conversation and be able to initiate, but not maintain friendships. In combination with less to no and different restricted interests and an inability to communicate their needs, girls appear “less” impaired than they really are, especially in the school environment. Females on the Spectrum present with a “look” to them that suggest they are merely more sensitive, emotional and/or anxious than others.

Autism is particularly challenging to detect in girls, especially bright young girls, because generally there are little to no concerns at school. Typically, the Autistic female is doing everything to hide it, from using her cloaking device (hiding in a group) to blending in with the wall (hiding in the classroom) to chameleonism (adopting the social behaviors of another student or adult), allowing them to be much better socially over Autistic males but not neurotypical females. Their ability to hide their Autism is a superpower, but there is a high cost to pay.

Seen in private practice, the subtleties in bright females are abundant, from subtle clues externally (from a slight grimace in their smile to over-exaggerated body language) to social scripts (only observed if you see the girl a few times) to older children or teens who are questioning their gender (because they have always been unable to relate to their peers). Some females want to become boys, some are happy with their androgyny, some are happy to remain female and some change their gender entirely.

Observing, describing and understanding the unique presentation of autism in girls is the beginning to improve identification rates and create unique resources just for females. Understanding the heterogeneity of this group of females is also very important. In my 2nd book I Am AspienWoman, I discuss the differences and subtypes. Developing diagnostic tools is imperative as are intervention resources specifically for femaleCoverJune2015

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Tania can be reached for fee-for-service impressions assessments (in person or Skype), consultations, problem solving consultations and/or support, interviews and/or presentations/workshops, and/or book translations at tania@aspiengirl.com

Tania divides her time between full-time private practice, research and writing her books series.

To subscribe to the AspienGirl newsletter or to become and affiliate and earn 10% on all books referred, go to http://www.aspiengirl.com

To purchase I Am AspienGirl or I Am AspienWoman or pre-order AspienPowers or I Am AspienBoy, go to http://www.aspiengirl.com

For more information about female Autism or female Asperger Syndrome, go to http://www.taniamarshall.com

Future Books and Webinar Series

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I Am AspienWoman releases at #29 Amazon USA, #1 in Australia (2 categories)

I Am AspienWoman releases at #29 Amazon USA, #1 in Australia (2 categories) and 1st spanish world female autism conference

I Am AspienWoman, Foreword by Dr. Shana Nichols, is the sequel to the best selling IPPY Gold medal award winning I am Aspiengirl, Foreword by Dr. Judith Gould. This book is over 300 pages and explores areas including: social, communication, subtypes, sensory, strengths, challenges, work, family, gender and sexuality, stages leading up to a diagnosis, 24 mentors leg by Dr. Temple Grandin, who offer advice, a comprehensive screener of characteristics, the reasons for a diagnosis, disclosure and a strengths based exercise.
Amazon USA releases I Am AspienWoman paperbook at #29
Amazon USA released I Am AspienWoman this past weekend (August 22nd) at the #29 ranking in the Autism and Asperger Syndrome category and we are thrilled. The eBook version should be available any day now. The hardcover versions is set for release in the near future. All formats and will be available on Amazon USA, then Amazon UK, Canada and others stores as they roll-out over time

Amazon Australia releases I Am AspienWoman eBook Kindle at #1 in 2 categories. Barely released 1 week, we are thrilled to announce that I Am AspienWoman reached #1 in 2 categories August 29th, 2015.
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Free sample chapters
Free sample chapter of both I Am AspienGirl and I am AspienWoman are available upon signing up on the homepages at http://www.aspiengirl.com

Pre-orders of I Am AspienWoman eBook from the AspienGirl webstore
For those of you all who preordered I Am AspienWoman in eBook format, all you need to do is locate the invoice that was sent to you when you purchased your book. Clink on the link within the invoice and your eBook will download.

Pre-orders of I Am AspienWoman paperback from the AspienGirl webstore

For those of you all who preordered I Am AspienWoman in paperback format, these books will be mailed out early next week.

Pre-orders of I Am AspienWoman hardcover from the AspienGirl webstore

For those of you all who preordered I Am AspienWoman in hardcover format, these books will be mailed out as soon as the hardcover version is ready.

The book are now available on Amazon Canada and Amazon UK and the formats will become available as Amazon’s time frame allows.

Here is another sneak peek at a couple of interesting pages from the book, clients I have seen over the years.

World’s first Spanish females Autism Conference
This week Tania was honored to be invited to provide the welcome opening introduction for the World’s first Spanish females Autism Conference taking place this weekend, August 29th-31st, in Beunos Aires, Argentina. We will upload the welcome on Facebook. The conference program can be viewed here: http://mujerestea.com/2015/08/26/298-programa-final-jornada-haciendo-visible-lo-invisible-en-tea/
Soy AspienGirl
Soy AspienGirl is now available on Amazon USA and Amazon Spain at: http://www.amazon.com/SOY-AspienGirl-caracter%C3%ADsticas-talentos-Espectro/dp/0992360978/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1440738556&sr=8-1&keywords=soy+aspiengirl
Asia Pacific Autism Conference (APAC)
We will be at the Asia Pacific Autism Conference (APAC) in Brisbane, Australia (Booth #30). APAC runs from 9th-11th September, 2015
You can purchase both books there with I Am AspienWoman hot off the press!
If you wish to email the author about her book, offer a testimonial or review, please email her at tania@aspiengirl with your comments or testimonials.
If you are having trouble downloading your eBook or any other questions or inquiries including Skype or in-person assessments, diagnoses, intervention, support, problem solving or interviews, articles, conferences and workshop or translations, please contact tania@aspiengirl.com
Best Wishes, remember to Be Your Own Superhero and enjoy the book
Team AspienGirl
#nomorefemalesleftbehind