The Neurodiversity of Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Females

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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

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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

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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

Autistic Women, Diagnosis, Disclosure and Mythbusting

Taken from I Am AspienWoman (2015), release date September, 2015

I Am AspienWoman, Foreword by Dr. Shana Nichols, is over 300 pages and covers the entire lifespan from late teens to the elderly woman. Included is a mentor section including 24 inspirational and motivational Autistic woman, headed up by Dr. Temple Grandin.

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A diagnosis does not always mean disclosure.  By this, I mean disclosure may not be helpful. It depends. In my work with women, I have had women who wanted a diagnosis just for themselves and planned to tell no-one (not even their partners family members), I have had people who have told the world, and I’ve had everything in between!  Disclosure can have positive or negative ramifications and it is context dependent. Once you have disclosed you cannot take it back, nor can you control how or what others will say or think. In an ideal world, it would be perfect if the workplace or educational institution or other people would act according to disability law or respond how you would like them to, but this is often not the case. It may or may not benefit you to tell people and the pros and cons need to be considered, even if a workplace says they are aware and accommodating of disability. What are the pros and cons of disclosure for you?

Be prepared that other people may not believe you

It is a common experience for women to be invalidated, disregarded and/or not believed after they disclose their diagnosis to family members, partners or friends. This is mainly due to a lack of education and/or awareness about Autistic females.

Other people may expect to see physical signs or behaviors to confirm to them that a woman is on the Autism Spectrum. They may compare her to the media stereotyped characters or the males they know or know of on the Spectrum. They may say inappropriate or upsetting things to the newly diagnosed, often coming from good intentions.  Other people on the Spectrum may not believe you or may say just as upsetting things. Educating others (by referring them to research or books) and self-advocating, where possible, may be helpful.

Be prepared for the stereotypes about females with Autism

In particular, educating others about how Autism in females presents and the sub-types. Some common stereotypes and myths regarding females include:

females are Tomboys, dislike make-up and clothing, don’t like fairies or the colour pink, females, cannot look at you and carry on a conversation, and more. In fact, the opposite is true. Whilst I have met some females like this, I have met many females who love pink, make-up, clothes, fashion and fairies. There is no one type of Autistic female. What are some scripts or responses you can have prepared ahead of time?

Another way of talking about a diagnosis without talking about the “A” word

Another way of discussing a diagnosis can be in the form of discussing characteristics, traits, abilities or challenges. For example, talking about neurodiversity and ‘different’ brains (just like there are different trees and flowers) can be a helpful analogy. Relating different trees or flowers to people gives others an understanding of different brain types. Learning to advocate for oneself is important and can be effective when done appropriately. The following are a couple of examples to get assist and reflect on:

“I’m the kind of person who likes to socialize for a little while but then I need a break to recharge my batteries”

“I’m the type of person who is really interested in talking about English literature and not so great with small talk”

“I’m an introvert and need more time alone than others so I can concentrate on my painting”

What are some ways you can explain your strengths and challenges? What are some ways you can advocate for yourself?

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Tania is available for in-person or Skype or other remote consultations, assessments or problem-solving sessions. She offers bulk billing and sliding scales where applicable. To book appointments or discuss and/or book availability for presentations, conferences, publishing, translation and media interviews or inquiries, please email Tania@aspiengirl.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tania Marshall is a best selling author, a 2015 ASPECT Autism Australia National Recognition Award Nominee (Advancement Category) and a 2015 eLIT Gold Medal Award winner for her first self-published book entitled “I Am AspienGirl : The Unique Characteristics, Traits and Strengths of Young Females on the Autism Spectrum”, foreword by Dr. Judith Gould.  The sequel to this book entitled “I Am AspienWoman: The Unique Characteristics, Traits and Strengths of Adult Females on the Autism Spectrum”, Foreword by Dr. Shana Nichols is available September, 2015. Tania is currently writing the third book in her book series entitled “AspienPowers: The Unique Constellation of Strengths, Talents and Gifts of Females with Autism Spectrum Conditions”. The Spanish version of I am Aspiengirl , entitled Soy AspienGirl is now available. Tania’s work has been translated and/or cited in numerous publications including Sarah Hendrickxs’ recent release entitled “Women and Girls with an Autism Spectrum Disorder” (2015), foreword by Dr. Judith Gould.

Tania currently works in busy full-time private practice, providing diagnostic assessments, intervention and support to males and females ages 2-76 years of age. Tania is an Australian Psychological Society (APS) Identified Autism Practitioner, a Helping Children with Autism Early Intervention Service Provider (HWCA), a Better Start for Children with a Disability Provider, an approved Medicare provider of psychological services and a trained Secret Agent Society (SAS) Practitioner.

20152017  All rights reserved Tania Marshall

Adult Autism/Asperger Syndrome Assessment in Females

Adult Autism Assessment in Females 
Updated 23/09/2016

Autism spectrum conditions, including Asperger’s syndrome, are challenging to identify in adults. Without appropriate assessment, many individuals may go undiagnosed, without appropriate support and treatment.

Many girls and women are going undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because the majority of the research has been conducted on males and there is a great need of research based on females compared to NT females, research based assessment tools for females and interventions for females. There is also a great need for these tools to be made readily accessible to professionals, in other countries and other languages. At present, there are few professionals in the world both trained and experienced in assessing and/or working with females on the Spectrum, across the lifespan. At this point in my career, I have worked with hundreds, closer to 1,000 females, from ages 18 months to 78 years of age, of various sub-types, symptomatology, mild to severe traits, a variety of levels of Giftedness, many professional performers (singers, musicians, comedians, actors, models), professionals athletes, professional artists, professional authors, high-profile individuals, all at different points on the Social Spectrum, some with gender dysphoria, some with sexual fluidity, parenting and being a mother, being in trouble with the law, stalking and obsessiveness, working in the sex trade, being sectioned into a mental health facility (and the experiences that go with that), have work-related challenges, and much more.

Females with Autism or Aspergers may be picked up for Autism in the teenage years with depression, anxiety or an eating disorder, if they are at all. Many females exist who are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed and continuing to have mental health problems because of this. Some are diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, which may or may not be appropriate, although many have BPD traits, and I have worked with individuals who have both. For adults, no-one knew of Asperger Syndrome or Autism back in their childhood. So a comprehensive early childhood and teenage autobiographical account is an extremely important piece of an assessment. In addition, other perspectives from people who know the person very well are important. A comprehensive assessment of an adult can include a variety of assessment tools, depending on the person. It also involves childhood photographs, report cards and comments, parental and/or partner perspectives, formal assessment tool(s) and an exploration of abilities, talents and/or gifts.

 

The vast majority of women I work with are on the bright end of the Spectrum, and tell me their reasons for seeking a diagnosis range from self-understanding and awareness to improving their relationships, to improving their works relationships, to treating their anxiety and or depressive episodes. are not seeking services, support, nor government support pension or services. They are wanting to know why they have “felt different” for so long, wanting to know what career is best for them, wanting to know how to structure their lives. They don’t want o be on government disability not do they see they value in that. They like working, want to work and contribute.

Presently there are ZERO adult assessment tools for females, very little research that is based on females and no specific research based interventions for females. This is a crisis for females. It is challenging for females to find a professional or organization familiar with the female autism research, how to assess females and then how to support them.

When I conduct impressions assessments, the assessment of adults explore the areas of social communication and interaction, repetitive and stereotypical behaviour, sensory issues and abilities or gifts. Feedback is provided, recommendations, highly recommended resources and a “What Next?” discussion is also involved.

Generally speaking, my comprehensive adult diagnostic impressions assessments include the following:

An autobiographical account from earliest memories until approximately age 25 (usually 4-6 pages)
A written or typed account of why you feel you might have female Autism/Asperger Syndrome
A 10-page Life History Questionnaire to go over various traits, and also collect extensive life/educational/employment/psychological history, developmental information.
Where possible, I interview family members, a partner, or any other family member or friend who know the person very well. I also base my diagnosis on my direct experience of how the person presents during the interviews. Non-verbal body language, facial expressions, the sound of the voice and intonations are all assessed.
An interview exploring present day context and day to day functioning
An exploration of the following is important:
 
Family history, including one’s own children (if any), who may be displaying traits or be formally diagnosed.
History of mental health issues, previous medical, psychiatric, psychological and psycho-educational history (previous IQ test and/or educational assessments), previous diagnoses and/or learning disabilities
Reading of previous reports, letters, hospital admission notes, medical, educational reports
Educational history
Social communication and relationship/friendship history, use of social compensatory strategies
Identity or persona (s)
A thorough exploration of compensatory strategies
A sensory processing assessment
Work history
School report cards, school/teacher comments
Childhood photos from each developmental stage
Abilities, gifts, strengths, talents and/or skills (some examples include samples of poetry, art, blog, short stories, books, singing and/or musical ability, acting, comedy routine, degrees and/or thesis/dissertation work, samples of jewellery, clothing or costumes, website, awards and so on)
Over-excitabilities, sensory sensitivities, self-soothing or stimming behaviors, sensory processing disorder and/or synaethesia
An exploration of visual, auditory, taste, touch, smell, balance, movement and intuitive differences, synaethesia and hyper empathy.
1-3 other perspectives from other persons who know the person really well
An exploration of personal journal entries, autobiographical and/or blog entries
Results of specific adult Autism assessment tools and other tools, completed by the person and also dependent on the person being assessed and the context
Other conditions (for example,  Central Auditory Processing, Irlen Syndrome, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome,  Hypermobility type Syndrome, food allergies)
Formal diagnostic tool(s) depend on the context of client. Research has shown that both the DSM5 and the ADOS are not very good at picking up the subtle characteristics of females on the Spectrum.
It is imperative that professionals learn to ASK females the right questions. These questions will vary from questions that would be asked of males. This is because we research is finally beginning to catch up with clinical experience, telling is what we as clinicians have know for years, that males and females present differently, in quite a few ways. Giftedness also impacts on the presentation of a female on the Spectrum, so professionals need to be aware of all levels of Giftedness and how they affect the assessment process.
So, when someone receives a diagnosis, what then?

A positive assessment or diagnosis is just the beginning.It is never to late to receive a diagnosis and the benefits outweigh any disadvantages.

While my diagnosis is based on the current DSM-5 Criteria, it is by no means a cut and dry process. The DSM is a working document and as such, does not accomodate well to females on the Spectrum.

Diagnosis, ultimately from my perspective, is best done when in collaboration with the client (and their partner or spouse when relevant) as a way to inform, educate, reflect and empower.

An important  “What Next” section is very important, and may or may not involve the following,  again dependent on the person, their situation and context of their life. Discussions of the following may include:
Self awareness and understanding
Education and highly recommended resources (including the best academic books, websites, research, researchers, webinars, etc)
Attitude
Strengths
Challenges
Recommended helpful therapy
The Social Spectrum
Referral to other professionals, professional support groups, etc.
Many adults have lived and died not knowing they had Autism or Asperger syndrome. Some benefits of an adult diagnosis include:
Knowledge and self-understanding of oneself and also for family members, friends, co-workers and/or partners
Access to appropriate therapy, medication, support and services
An answer for past experiences and challenges
Permission to ease up on oneself
Possible prevention of other conditions or disorders (i.e., personality disorders, difficulties distinguishing between reality and fantasy), difficulties with work, the law and court system and/or suicide
Prevention of mis-directed treatment
Learning about how one thinks (see the Autistic Brain, by Dr. Temple Grandin)
Identifying strengths, abilities and gifts
There are both benefits and costs to disclosing a diagnosis. Disclosure should be considered thoughtfully and used only if there is is potential benefit.
Who should I look for to help me? How can I find someone to help me?
Today, there are few professionals in the world trained and experienced in assisting females. At this time, the most important factor to look at is “Does the professional have both experience and training in the area of female autism”? Are they aware of the inherent gender bias? What types of assessment tools do they use? What is involved in an assessment? Do they use adult assessment tools? (Yes, I have had two clients tell me that child assessment tools were used on them).
I have developed a database of professionals who work with females which can be found at and is being updated on a regular basis at http://taniamarshall.com/female-asc-professionals.html
Please contact me at tania@aspiengirl.com if you or you know of someone who would like to be added to this database.
Common Pathways to an assessment or diagnosis
Having a child being assessed or who is formally diagnosed with  Autism
Difficulties with work or a current relationship
Discovering and learning about female Autism, aka self-diagnosis
A family member has recently or in the past received a diagnosis
Stalking and/or becoming involved in other criminal activities
I have read your writings and book I Am AspienGirl and it fit like a glove. Can you provide an assessment for me?
Yes, Tania regularly provides comprehensive impressions assessments across the lifespan. The vast majority of adults (both male and female) Tania has assisted are wanting a self-diagnosis confirmed formally. She is also in touch with other professionals who work in this area and also regularly refers to other appropriate professionals at the appropriate time. She can be reached at tania@aspiengirl.com
I really identify with the writings available on female Autism but I am not sure I want a diagnosis? Is Tania available to for sessions other than assessment?
Yes, Tania regularly provides services which may focus on assessment, diagnosis, problem solving, the pros and cons of a diagnosis, the pros and cons of disclosure, career directions, managing stress, anxiety, sensory sensitivities, “What Next” after a diagnosis, the different types of Autistic thinking, gender dysphoria, social difficulties and social skills, relationship difficulties, synaethesia, hyperempathy and the topic of being an “empath”.
For more information about the adult female phenotype, the sequel to the eLIT Gold Medal Award winning I am AspienGirl, entitled I Am AspienWoman: The Characteristics, Traits and Abilities of Adult Females on the Autism Spectrum is in press and due for release September 2015 and is based on her blog entitled “Aspienwomen: Adult Women with Asperger Syndrome. Moving towards a female profile of Asperger Syndrome”

Tania A. Marshall is an award winning and best selling author, a 2016 and 2015  ASPECT Autism Australia National Recognition Awards Nominee (Advancement category) and a psychologist. Her first book, I Am AspienGirl: The Unique Characteristics, Traits and Gifts of Females on the Autism Spectrum, Foreword by Judith Gould, UK, is a Amazon best-seller and a 2015 IPPY eLIT Gold Medal Book Award Winner.

I Am AspienGirl has been translated into both Spanish and Italian (release dates of July and August 2015 respectively). Additional completed translations include: German, Japanese and Brazilian Portuguese. Other languages currently under completion include: Dutch, French, Norwegian (by SPISS), Hebrew and Chinese.

 

Tania has completed the sequel to I Am AspienGirl, entitled “I am AspienWoman: The Unique Characteristics, Traits and Strengths of Females on the Autism Spectrum, foreword by Dr Shana Nichols (lead author of Girls Growing up on the Autism Spectrum). The release was 2015. This book includes a section of 24 females, all diagnosed as on the Spectrum, showcasing their strengths and also offering important advice to others. Tania is proud to announce that her 2nd book “I Am AspienWoman” recently won an IPPY eLIT Gold Medal in the “Women’s Issues” category.

Tania is an Australian psychological society (APS) autism identified medicare provider,
helping children with autism (HCWA) early intervention service provider, a better start early intervention provider and an Australian government medicare approved mental health provider. She is also a trained Secret Agent Society (SAS) social skills practitioner.

Tania can be reached at Admin@centreforautism.com.au for clinic or Skype remote impressions assessments, consultations, problem solving sessions, skills acquisition and intervention, interviews, book translations, presentations or workshops. She divides her time between busy full-time private practice, research and writing her book series.
Tania’s other books include:
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Female Autism Infographics

Female Autism Infographics to share for awareness and education. More Coming

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

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For more information go to:

http://www.aspiengirl.com

http://www.taniamarshall.com

To contact Tania regarding consultations, assessment, problem-solving strategies, Skype consultations, book distribution, interviews, book translations, publishing queries, please email her at tania@aspiengirl.com

Announcing I Am AspienWoman: The Unique Characteristics, Traits and Gifts of Adults Females on the Autism Spectrum

I Am AspienWoman: The Unique Characteristics, Traits and Gifts of Adults Females on the Autism Spectrum

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After “I Am AspienGirl” was released in June 2014, it went to #1 in 3 categories on Amazon. The AspienGirl team was inundated with emails, stories, messages and letters. Many of them were from females themselves or from their family members, their loved ones and professionals. We received pictures, poetry, art, short and long stories. We had people, of all ages, wanting to be a part of the Be Your Own Superhero Project. We received messages from a number of countries wanting to know more about female Autism, offering their translation skills to assist in getting the information made available in other languages and/or wanting to know where to go to start the process of an assessment. Messages came in from parents and professionals saying they were using the book to explain the diagnosis or as a reference/starting point for explaining or discussing certain characteristics. Many of the messages or testimonials coming in positively referred to the format of the book, in particular the use of images and verbatim quotes which combined together showcased particular traits, characteristics or talents.

What we learned was that there is a desperate need all over the world for more trained professionals, more adult female research based on females and comparing females with Autism to their neurotypical peers, more information regarding the internal experiences of a large group of females on the Spectrum, more information about the female sub-types, and a huge need for assessment tools, resources, intervention and support designed specifically for females. Current assessment tools appear not to be suitable or designed to identify particular features of Autism spectrum disorder/condition in females.

This book is written for four types of readers. First, this book was written for the general population (neurotypical people), to explain the internal experiences and the unique characteristics of adult females with an Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC). Second, this book is written for the female who may just be starting her journey to understand that she may too, be on the Spectrum herself. Many adults are unaware that they are on the Autism Spectrum. Third, this book is for individuals who are self-diagnosing or with a formal diagnosis who may feel this book may help explain their uniqueness and characteristics to themselves and/or to their loved ones through sharing it with family members, partners, friends and/or colleagues. Lastly, the book is written for professionals, to assist them in understanding the newly emerging Autistic female profile and in their work with their clients.

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Cover of I Am AspienWoman

I Am AspienWoman: The Unique Characteristics, Traits and Gifts of Adults Females on the Autism Spectrum is written by Tania Marshall, MSc., and the second in the AspienGirl book series. This book continues where I Am AspienGirl left off, detailing the newly emerging female phenotype as it often presents in adult females. This highly visual book presents stunning images combined with verbatim quotes by females on the Spectrum, that combined characterize and illuminate the unique strengths and challenges of the this “lost generation” of females. The images and quotes highlight a range of areas including: early memories, cognitive/personality type, sub-types, social, education, sensory sensitivities, emotional, communication/language, work, common interests, gender, family, and relationships, strengths, challenges, stages leading up to and after diagnosis, important AspienWoman needs and an inspiring section of 25 real life AspienWoman Superhero Mentors headed up by Dr. Temple Grandin. Also included is a strengths based exercise and some important references/resources.

Growing Up

Sample Page of I Am AspienWoman

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Sample Page of I Am AspienWoman

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Sample Page of I Am AspienWoman

In celebration of the upcoming release of I Am Aspienwoman, we are offering $5.00 off, from now until release day. Pre-order you copy now at http://www.aspiengirl.com/english/i-am-aspienwoman-paperback

Available in eBook, paperback and a stunning Hard Cover edition. Dont forget to use your $5.00 off Code: #aspienwoman

You can also sign up for the AspienGirl newsletter and/or become an affiliate of the book series and earn 10% for every book your refer

For all inquiries regarding in-person or Skype diagnostic assessments or consultations, interviews, presentation and/or translations, please contact Tania at tania@aspiengirl.com

For furthur information:

http://www.aspiengirl.com

http://www.taniamarshall.com