This is a recent FAQ on self-deprecation in neurodiverse females. As always, If you like it please share and leave your positive comments or other questions below. This video was made by the Neurodiversity Academy, founded by and funded by AspienGirl girl.com
The following article is copyrighted and may not be posted anywhere without permission from the author.
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.
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
No part of this may be used, reproduced, borrowed or copied. This is an excerpt from Behind The Mask
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.
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 email@example.com
24 Inspiring and Motivational Autistic Women and Positive Role Models
I Am AspienWoman is a highly visual book describing the newly emerging Autistic female phenotype in over 300 pages and features 24 inspirational and motivating Autistic Woman who serve as positive role models, showcasing ability and possibility. This section is headed up by none other than Dr. Temple Grandin, whose strengths based positive approach I admire. The mentors come from countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Denmark and were chosen for their positive strengths based attitude, their personal abilities and their passion for advocating for Autism and/or helping others. Here is a snapshot of the Mentor section.
To see and read more about these inspirational mentors, pick up your copy of I Am AspienWoman, available in eBook, paperback and hardcover versions at http://www.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. She is the author of I am AspienGirl
(2014), I Am AspienWoman (2015) and AspienPowers. She currently works in busy full-time private practice, providing diagnostic assessments, intervention, support and problem solving consultations to males and females ages 2-76 years of age, in-person or via Skype.
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. All inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org
2015 All rights reserved Tania Marshall
Assessing the behaviors, traits and abilities of young females on the Autism Spectrum: For professionals and parents
Girls with high functioning Autism (Asperger Syndrome) often have subtler characteristics that lead them to be missed by professionals. Many (not all) are able to use compensatory strategies to mask their difficulties and these are learned from before they start grade school. Autism tends to be a condition of extremes; an either/or condition in which two girls who present quite differently can both be on the Spectrum. For example, one is shy, quiet and mute and the other is loud, has a lack of boundaries and talks too much. The both have social communication and interaction difficulties.
Girls on the Spectrum may present as shy, quiet and at times mute, taking a long time to warm up to situations or they may present as overly talkative, verbal and lacking boundaries.
The quiet girl can be described as passive, a follower, watching and observing her peers much of the time to learn what to say or how to act. She is very shy in social situations. The verbal girl is often dominating, described as “bossy and controlling”, often described as having to have the best at everything and have her own way. She dominates and controls social situations.
Both girls may not receive many birthday invites, prefer one or two close friends, prefer to play with younger or older children rather than their peers, prefer to talk to boys or have boys as friends.
The quiet type may be attracted to extraverted personalities who tell her what to do or are controlling towards her due to her passivity and shyness. The verbal type may be domineering and controlling in her interactions with others.
Why do girls who have an assessment not receive a diagnosis?
Females can and do make eye contact and can have superficial reciprocal conversations in initial interviews with professionals.
Females are reluctant to admit they are having difficulty and will say they have friends, that they know what to do socially, when they are actually socially confused
Females start learning, often from before grade school to camouflage their difficulties and pretend every thing is fine
Females will say everything is ok and there are no problems even in the face of contrary evidence or difficulties
Professionals are viewing the female as just a “shy” and/or “sensitive” child or a “hormone driven” teenager, when in fact they have Autism. Around the age of 12-13 are when the proverbial wheels may begin to fall off and the inability to cope comes to the forefront
Professionals may diagnose only the presenting issue (for e.g., anxiety disorder)
They may receive high scores on the ADOS but not enough for a diagnosis
The majority of assessment tools are based on males
Professionals are not trained in understanding the gender differences, the gender bias, the questions to ask, compensatory strategies and camouflaging techniques
Some clues look for in an assessment
The Social World
1. exaggerated facial mannerism or a flatter affect. Many girls I have worked with have a slight grimace to their smile. This is a clue that they may be having difficulties with their own non-verbal body language. Many childhood photos reveal either no smiling or a slight exaggerated smile or facial expressions
2. look for facial expressions not matching the mood or the situation being discussed. For example, it is common to observe smiling or laughing whilst talking about a situation that would usually be associated with a different emotion (and therefore a different facial expression and tone of voice).
3. many girls say they know what to do in a social situation but when asked, are not able to tell you what they would do or give an answer that leads to to believe otherwise. An investigation into levels and types of friendships and social skills often reveals difficulties
4. exaggerated non-verbal body language is often a clue. Some girls present in the clinic with body language that appears “odd”, unnatural or like they are acting with you in a conversation.
5. Many females are well-behaved (often too well-behaved) in school but the opposite at home (due to social exhaustion and holding it all in)
6. Many females are observed using behaviors or words from their peers, other people or television. They may copy, look like or act like others, taking on the characteristics, mannerisms, voice, sayings, of others.
7. Many females present in different ways depending on the situation and this can be confusing to family members.
8. Many females will tell you they know what to do in social situations, but the evidence is contrary and/or you will get the impression that they are confused or are not being truthful.
9. Some females may not apologize when they have made a social error and some females over-apologize due to being confused about social rules. Some females refuse to apologize even when it is plainly obvious it would be in their best interests to do so.
10. Many females are able to socialize quite well for small periods of time but them experience social exhaustion or a ‘social hangover’, needing solitude to recharge her batteries.
The Play World
1. Some girls have a preference to play with stereotypical boys toys, having no interest in dolls whilst others have an obsessive-like quality towards dolls and stereotypical girls toys (for e.g., collecting all barbie dolls).
2. Girls can often be observed spending the majority of their time putting together the scene of play, rather that actually playing. For example, spending the majority of time ensuring all the furniture, accessories and dolls are in the right place). They often have elaborate scenes of play set up and organized.
3. Whilst playing on their own, girls are often observed to be role-playing adults. For example, a girl may set up all her teddy bears bears, dolls, etc., and role play the teacher, doctor, nurse or other role. She may take attendance, give time-outs, write out lesson plans and/or teach class lessons.
4. Girls on the Spectrum are often far more imaginative than their peers. They are often observed pretending to be animals and/or imitating them. They may also have some difficulty distinguishing between reality and fantasy
5. A tendency to have imaginary friends and/or animals who are very real to the child, to the point that they may have table settings for them at the table, seats for them in the car, and so on.
6. Girls often spend more time playing with the family pets and/or on nature than their peers, having a natural affinity/gift in the areas of nature and animals. It is the intensity of the interest as compared to neurotypical peers that is key here.
7. May have obsessions with other people which can be observed as too clingy, not allowing the friend to have other friends, not giving them enough ‘space’, or obsessing over them
8. Females tend to have more avoidance traits and strategies when demands are placed on them
9. Some females may flitter from group to group in school not really having any real friends but giving the appearance of having friends, so that no one would pick up on this
Abilities, Gifts and Talents
Abilities, Gifts and Talents are plural due to the many females I have met who display multiple talents. These abilities often include:
hyperlexia/reading ability, perfect or near-perfect pitch, languages, art, performing arts (dance, acting/drama, singing, musical theatre, modelling, involvement in a band, comedy), the care of animals, mathematics, writing fiction and/or fan-fiction and/or poetry and/or songwriting, intelligence,
Mature interests may include interests advanced for her age (philosophy, psychology, opera, a language)
Immature interests may include an interest well past her developmental age (for example, my little pony, doll or teddy bear collections).
Some females present as more of a “tomboy” appearance (preferring an androgynous clothing style) and disliking make-up and sterotypical girls clothing
Some females present as a “ultra-feminine” or “princess” like appearance (love make-up, fashion, trends and shoes). they may spends time involved in shopping for clothes and/or designing clothes, perfecting the art of makeup and.or modelling
Regardless of presentation, a difference in terms of clothing as compared to her peers is usually observed. My screener which was the basis of I Am AspienGirlL The Unique Characteristics, Traits and Gifts of Females on the Autism Spectrum is here:
A female autism assessment tool I often use in conjuction with other tools includes this screening questionnaire developed by Kopp and Gilberg and it is excellent.
THE AUTISM SPECTRUM SCREENING QUESTIONNAIRE (ASSQ)-REVISED EXTENDED VERSION (ASSQ-REV), by Kopp and Gilberg
Kopp and Gilberg found that certain single ASSQ-GIRL items are often much more typical of girls than of boys with ASC. These items include “avoids demands”, “very determined” and “interacts mostly with younger children”. The ASSQ-REV is a new assessment tool that includes a set of “girl” items.
ASSQ-GIRL, 18 new screening items believed to tap into the autism phenotype of girls
ASSQ-GIRL item No Somewhat Yes
- Copies you (can be in a very discrete way)
- Episodes of eating problems
- No time perception*
- Too much sympathy
- Extremely interested in pop/ rock bands, soap operas or natural disasters
- Avoids demands*
- 34 Very determined*
- 35 Difficulties with choice; always avoids choosing
- 36 Difficulties with self-care*
- 37 Carefree or overmeticulous as regards physical appearance/dress
- Comes too close to others
- Interacts mostly with younger children*
- Engages in dangerous activities
- Exaggeratedly fanciful
- Talks without content*
- Writes long stories (can be in stark contrast to level of talk)
- Acts or lives different parts (TV stars, videos, animals)
Note. *indicates items which were considered most specific in girls with ASD (see study V)
To contact Tania for assessments, Skype or clinic consultations, problem solving sessions, workshops and presentations, book interviews, book translations, or publishing, please contact Tania at email@example.com
For more information about Autism Spectrum Conditions in females go to:
Copyright Tania A. Marshall 2015
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.
For more information go to:
To contact Tania regarding consultations, assessment, problem-solving strategies, Skype consultations, book distribution, interviews, book translations, publishing queries, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Webinar: A Summary of The Female Autism Conundrum
By Tania. A Marshall, M.Sc. (App. Psych), Assoc. MAPS
Thank you to Sfari.org and female Autism researcher and experts David Skuse and Will Mandy for presenting a fascinating webinar discussing the gender bias.
Part One by Dr. David Skuse
More individuals who are termed “high functioning” are now being assessed and diagnosed. If Autism is defined by the male stereotype, then females are going to be missed and disadvantaged. We, and other professionals working in this area, believe a serious gender bias exists. So, where is the evidence that we are missing females?
- Studies are not recruiting a representative sample of females with Autism and therefore are making spurious conclusions.
- The under identification of females with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) with average IQ
- A South Korea Study screened approximately 55,000 school age children and found that the overall prevalence rate was 2.5:1 for male to female.
- A National Health Statistics Report (2013) found that changes in the prevalence of parent reported Autism Spectrum in school-aged children found that there was an 80% increase in the identification of school-age boys with ASC in the 5 year period as opposed to only a 43% increase in identification of school-age girls.
- By 2013, approximately 1 in 30 boys in the United States of America had been given a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Conditions and ONLY 1 in 140 girls had been given a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Conditions and this is most likely an underestimate. School-ages children (mostly boys) were largely responsible for this increased prevalence. Largest increase is between 14 and 17 years
- Identifying, ascertaining and assessing teenage females with Autism Spectrum Conditions if particularly challenging and problematic. Why is this?
- Compensation: Females from preschool onwards are much more aware to social behaviours and norms Girls are less able to identify due to their superficial social skills, fewer social communication issues, less stereotyped behaviours and/or unusual motor behaviours
- Co-existing Conditions: The majority of females internalize their problems with depression, eating disorder, depression and a lack of “conduct” or behaviour problems and less ADHD in school, but behaviours are often seen at home. Boys are often picked up earlier due to their disruptive behaviours at school.
- Biased recording of behaviours, symptom profiling, using standard instruments and tools. Autism has been defined as a male stereotype. Girls have less repetitive and stereotyped behaviours and less motor behaviours.
If Autism is defined by the male autism stereotype, we will not find the girls. The definition of Autism is based upon the male stereotype and there is biased identification
Examples from the Interests and Behaviors section of the ADI-R
- Is she unusually interested in things like metal objects, lights, street signs, or toilets? No, she is obsessed with Justin Bieber!
- Does she play with the whole toy or seem more interested in part of the toy (e.g., spinning the wheels of a car or opening and shutting the door? No, sheis obsessed with her doll’s hair
- Does she have anything to which she is particularly attached, such as a pieve of pipe, a clothes peg or a stone? No, but she does have a collection of 2000 soft toys which are all pink, makeup collections, stationary items (my observations are erasers, pens, pencils, journals)
A population survey of gender differences in Autism traits which was a whole population epidemiological survey of autistic traits called the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), Bristol, UK. All participants were screened with the Social Communication Disorders Checklist (SCDC). Results showed that there were not dramatic differences by gender in parent’s answers on the questions. The results showed a 1.9:1 ratio for boys to girls.
Can females with high verbal IQ compensate for their ASC traits? Yes, females may compensate to some degree.
Females are at high risks of developing co-existing psychiatric disorders in response to social adjustment difficulties in later life.
In secondary school, females often become alienated, depressed and/or suicidal. They may become obsessed with people (to the point of stalking) or self-harm. Obsessions with people are common and can be towards professionals (doctors, psychologists, a best friend) with use of the Internet used to stalk the professionals, their families or their webpages.
The definition of ASC is based on the “male” stereotype. Current diagnostic criteria and the way it is implemented in research and clinics and assessment tools are biased against females and a large proportion of girls are missed in assessment or not included in the research.
We need to develop a better understanding of the ASC female phenotype which is founded on empirical and scientific information.
Ascertaining and assessment of girls with and ASC in the teenage years if particularly problematic.
Part Two by Dr. Will Mandy
We need to understand the female Autistic phenotype
Current ASC assessment processes are biased against females
A disproportionate amount of girl are underdiagnosed and/or misdiagnosed and incorrectly excluded from research studies
The current DSM5 on page 57 now states ”girls without intellectual impairment or language delay may go unrecognized, perhaps because of subtler manifestation of social and communication difficulties”
The key task is to develop a better understanding of the autistic female phenotype founded on empirical and scientific investigation. So, what does current research, clinical experience, anecdotes, a network of collaborations with professionals and narratives by females with Autism themselves say?
The Autism Female Phenotype and distinctive tendencies, patterns and trends (some males have traits of the female type and vice versa).
- Females with ASC are more socially motivated than males with ASC, more typical and gender stereotyped interests (Hiller et. al, 2014). Females show greater interest in people and initiate friendships more.
- Female obsessions or focused interests include: fashion, people (peers or celebrities or professionals), Barbies, hair, animals, Manga and Anime
- More vulnerable to internalizing disorders and are prone to Eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa, anxiety, depression and less likely to have conduct issues outside the home (Mandy et. al, 2012, Mandy & Tchanturia, in press)
- Social difficulties are misattributed to shyness or social anxiety
- Greater ability and capacity to “camouflage” and/or hide their autistic tendencies (Lai et. al, 2011)
- Gender differences play out or appear across the lifespan, in a developmental context. The greatest risk in gender differences across the lifespan is the issue of females; the greater female risk of missed diagnosis in the young, in pre-schoolers, in adolescence and into adulthood.
- Friendships: Girls are often ignored by others rather than rejected
- Female autistic difficulties are underestimated in school
- A much greater risk for anxiety and depression in primary school and then eating disorders in adolescence and sexual exploitation
- Camouflage: the “masking” of ASC behaviours in social situations and/or the performance of behaviours to compensate for difficulties associated with ASC
- Masking: Can be conscious (deciding to suppress stimming behaviours in public as they attract negative attention (Mandy & Tchanturia, 2015) or automatic (“doing social mimicry against whomever I’m with. I guess it’s like a cloaking device…I had no idea I was doing it until I as diagnosed”) (Bargiela & Mandy, in press)
- Acquisition of new skills and capacities to compensate for autistic difficulties and can be conscious (copying popular peers, dress, gestures, talk and practice it over and over at home; Mandy & Tchanturia, 2015) and unconscious (implicit learning from social experience; “it used to take me weeks to figure out what I had done wrong, but now I know pretty much immediately” HM, 15 years old)
What processes underpin camouflage? What drives the capacity to drive and adapt?
- Social Motivation
- Socially focused special interests; for example, psychology, anthropology, Jane Austen novels to crack the “social code”, to develop strategies to function socially
- Socialization experiences and pressures; the social pressures and expectations placed on women as opposed to men
- Executive control: the ability to inhibit, shift and generate plans
- Better social imitation and awareness
- Better Capacity for reflection
- Higher intelligence quotient and using intelligence to camouflage
So is Camouflaging a friend or foe? Both
The Pros include: allow people to function better in the workplace, in the social context, can open up a social world of friendships and can be a form of personal development/self-help
The Cons include: Exhaustion, loss of identity or identity confusion, underestimation of needs, missed and mis-diagnosis
At what age does female compensation start?
It begins in early childhood and breaking down in early adolescence, with adolescent talk and chit-chat being very exhausting, boring or uninteresting. Young girls have to learn from a very young age that you have to be nice, sweet, hug your relatives, act normal, develop a face you can put on and often acting convincingly so, which then makes it so much harder to get a diagnosis, leading to the theory that girls don’t get Autism or get is much less than boys.
Q & A Session with David Skuse and Will Mandy
- Q: What does all this mean in the context of early intervention?
A: Information from at-risk siblings revealed if assessment is done skilfully it can be picked up early in females. No evidence of intervention for females. The focus is on co-existing conditions or disorders. It is I,[perative to screen adolescents with anxiety, depression, self harm or eating disorder for an Autsim Spectrum Condition
- Q: If someone is able to camouflage e and there functioning better, what does this mean in terms of intervention and getting better, can this be seen as getting better?
A: People often find their own affective ways and strategies of handling difficulties. We need to be aware of the consequences (i.e. lying down in the foetal position after a demanding day pom arriving home). Many adolescents strive to be model students at school and all hell breaks loose at home. Parents are concerned and mental health blame the parents because they are not causing difficulties at school , which them leads to family therapy and parenting programs for the parents. This is sometimes seen in primary or elementary school
- Q: Is there a higher percentage of Gender Identity issues in females with Autism?
A: There is small growing literature on gender identity issues in females with ASC, but we are not aware of how common the wish to change gender is.
- Q: In the parent reported study you mentioned they weren’t formally diagnosed?
A: The Korean study ascertained cases that had not been diagnosed in the general population. A small proportion of those in the general population had been ascertained as being autistic. A lot of kids were picked up as school aged children, particularly girls who had not been picked up earlier as in clinically diagnosed. In the Bristol one, we screened at 8 and by mid-adolescence virtually everyone who had a diagnosis at that time had been picked up as having a high score in our survey and of course there were lots of children on our survey, the vast majority, almost all of them up with them, those who scored as high on the Social Communication Traits of an Autistic type may well have had secondary psychiatric problems during adolescence but those data are still being analysed
- Q: Are there any resources in particular for supporting suspected or maybe undiagnosed girls, teens, women for females, that are suspecting that they themselves or someone else
A: We are not aware of anything here in the UK. We have similar problems in the UK are almost certainly not being picked up and even if they are, the resources to help them are very limited indeed under the National Health Service (NAS). There is enormous popular literature on being a female with ASC. It is worth checking out the work of Tony Attwood on this topic and Tania Marshall and people like that. We are at the stage of interesting, rich and powerful descriptions of the female phenotype but now we need to get a proper evidence base that reflects scientific testing of all these ideas coming out in the literature and to my knowledge those studies haven’t been done yet.
Some thoughts from me
It is wonderful to see clinical anecdotal and qualitative evidence and evidence-based research merge. Thank you to Sfari, Greg Boustead, Dr. David Skuse and Dr. Will Mandy for an excellent webinar.
I do think an issue that makes it challenging for professionals pick up females is a lack of understanding about the female subtypes. Within a large group of autistic females, this can be seen clearly. Some examples follow and I am writing about subtypes in a future book.
1. The Blender. Shy, quiet introverted, maybe mute at times type. This type blends into the wall or the furniture. You often do not know she is there. May be misdiagnosed with social anxiety. If often on her own or follow others
2. The talker. Loud, more controlling and rule-bound, extraverted type who may come across as having ADHD, may control the relationship
3. The flitterer, goes from group to group with no solid friends and goes unnoticed
More to come about subtypes in upcoming book series
Collections can often involve also stationary items; the collecting of erasers, pens, pencils, journals and similar items.
There is still much to learn about female autism and I encourage those with an interest in this area to possibly research the following areas:
Motherhood and Autism
Gender Identity and Transgender
Autism and the sex trade
Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Sensory Processing Disorder in females with Autism
Mature females with Autism
For more information on the female phenotype, the best-selling book entitled “I Am AspienGirl: The Unique Characteristics, Traits and Gifts of Young Females on the Autism Spectrum” is available for order now. The sequel entitled “I am AspienWoman: The Unique Characteristics, Traits and Gifts of Adult Females on the Autism Spectrum”, with a large Mentor section of real-life adult females headed up by Dr. Temple Grandin, is being released shortly. Both are available from www.aspiengirl.com or Amazon
Tania A. Marshall is a Tania Marshall is a 2015 ASPECT Autism Australia National Recognition Awards Nominee (Advancement category), a best-selling author, psychologist, autism consultant and free lance writer.
For more information on female Autism, please visit http://www.taniamarshall.com
Please follow these female autism researchers:
Rachel Hiller, University of Bath
Christopher Gillberg and Svenni Kopp
Meng Chang Lai
Simon Baron Cohen, University of Cambridge
Marianna Murin and Rebecca Chilvers from Great Ormond Street Hospital
This interview is the fourth in a series where I interview Mentor AspienGirls or Aspienwomen from a variety of countries about their lives, Asperger Syndrome, their gifts and talents and more! I founded the Aspienwoman and Aspiengirl mentor project to showcase females of all ages who act as mentors and role models to others on and off the Spectrum.
A young Honey Parker singing her heart out
Tania: Hello Honey and thank-you for agreeing to participate in the Aspiengirl mentors interview project, where I interview girls and women on the Spectrum from a variety of countries and backgrounds. As you know, I was introduced to you after I interviewed your fabulous mother, UK actress and director Olley Edwards, who had just released her pioneering short film on Asperger Syndrome and females, which stars you, and also she had just published her first female Asperger Syndrome guidebook!
Honey: Thank-you for asking me. I am happy to join my mother in such a cool Project.
Tania: You appear to have a very busy life. You are an actress going to school and you are also a young female on the Spectrum. When and how did you receive your diagnosis? How old were you at that time?
Honey: I was diagnosed at age 6, at hospital. I was always very clever and I could read at three. I hate change, eat the same foods on the same days of week and when the school did a surprise practice fire alarm, I hated it. I often got sad and angry when I got home. When my baby sister Cherish was born, it was a huge change. When I visited them in hospital I didn’t cope well. The nurse told my mum “don’t worry my autistic daughter did that too” but mum didn’t know I had Aspergers then, so that’s how it started.
Tania: You certainly displayed some traits. Sounds like the nurse was spot on with your diagnosis. In terms of acting, was it a natural progression from watching your mother?
Honey: No! I watched a panto (British tradition of winter musical comedy theatre) and told mum I wished to do that too! So she made it happen for me by contacting the local theatre. I’ve been hooked and I love it. Since then, I’ve done a panto, TV shows and two films.
Tania: What is your secret to living successfully, as a young girl with Asperger Syndrome/Autism?
Honey: Be positive, take days off, and make the most of ‘hyperfocus’.
Tania: I’m really glad you mentioned a strength, or aspienpower, as I refer to them. I appreciate your strengths-based approach to living, as an Aspien. This is what the Aspien Mentor Project is all about. Hyperfocus, like other asperpowers has a double-edged sword, but I have seen people create websites, write a book or create a song, and more, when they are in the ”ásperzone”. What advice would you say to other young females on the Spectrum?
Honey: Go for anything you want to do, don’t let anyone say you aren’t capable, never give up.
Tania: Awesome advice coming from an 11-year old. What strengths do you think Asperger Syndrome has brought you, in terms of being successfulas an actress?
Honey: I can copy people really well! That’s always good for acting
Tania: What are your goals for the future?
Honey: I want to achieve so many things; I want to be in the musical wicked! Keep getting really great grades at school, design clothes and sing sing sing!
Tania: Honey, thank-you so much for agreeing to be a Mentor. And thank-you to you Olley for raising such a fantastic girl, who is now 11 years old, a grade A student and head of anti-bullying organization.
Olley: Honey has come out of her shell as direct result of diagnosis and correct support and schooling. We hope this may help mums who have just found out and provide hope. Thank-you for creating this project and inviting us.
Tania: That’s fantastic to hear Olley. The diagnosis can be, but unfortunately isn’t always, a starting point or turning point for others, to a life where the individual now understands why they feel and think differently and hopefully receive the appropriate supports and/or interventions.
Olley Edwards, Honey Parker and other actors/actresses of the movie ‘The Kindest Label’, a short film about female Asperger Syndrome awareness at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ctn6uBmUVgk
This interview is the third in a series where I interview Mentor Aspienwomen from a variety of countries about their lives, Asperger Syndrome, their gifts and talents and more! I founded the Aspienwoman mentor project to showcase females of all ages who act as mentors and role models.
Jo Redman is based in the United Kingdom and is a twice-world champion kickboxer and she has Asperger Syndrome. She is competing for her third title shortly. Jo advocates for females on the Spectrum by writing her first book, raising awareness and completing speaking engagements.
Tania: Welcome Jo and thank-you for joining the Aspienwoman mentor project, where we showcase female mentors on the Spectrum. When and how did you receive your diagnosis? How old were you at that time?
Jo: I was diagnosed as an adult in May 2010 at 23 years old. For me the road to diagnosis had been a long and difficult one and I had to almost break before I got the help I need. I had been involved in mental health services since 2007 being treated for things like social anxiety, I remember I was even discharged at the end of 2007 even though I didn’t speak in many of the sessions I had and the therapist reported finding it difficult. The issues were clearly far from solved and it wasn’t long before I was back involved in services. Early 2009 I was having a mental health screening assessment conducted by a social worker, I remember her almost stifling laughs at my difficulty to verbalise, it was a very painful thing to go through. She reported that as I was in full time employment, with a long term partner, my own house and was not taking drugs or drinking that all I needed was medication from a doctor and a mood diary, despite neither of these kinds of things working before and my insistence that I did not want to take any medication. A week later I was being assessed by 2 psychiatrists in crisis intervention and four months later in the absence of any depressive, psychiatric or anxiety related condition I was referred for diagnosis of an autistic spectrum disorder. The whole process from January 2009 took a year and a half to complete. I have mixed feelings about it, I feel very let down by some of the services and the fact that you need to be breaking down before anyone even looks to see what is going on but then the fact that those who eventually were assessing me were able to query Asperger’s was a relief, I know how often Asperger’s can be missed in females and different diagnoses can be given. I also can’t fault the under resourced team who did the Asperger’s assessment, the psychologist who diagnosed me was incredibly helpful to me and they were only supposed to give 6-8 follow up sessions following diagnosis but I had a lot more due to some major life events occurring not long after diagnosis, they stuck around for over a year after diagnosis which I feel really lucky about. I would say that since diagnosis though it has been difficult to get the support I need for issues related to Asperger’s – the problems don’t stop with diagnosis and certainly not when you become an adult.
Ultimately gaining a diagnosis was liberating and life changing for me, it was a huge turning point. Up until then I had worried extensively over who I was and why I struggled with certain things. I wanted to be part of things but always seemed to fail miserably. With diagnosis I was able to understand and accept myself.
Jo: Kickboxing is everything to me, it just makes sense and feels natural. I started when I was 13 years old with my Dad, he thought it would help to give me confidence. It took me two years to speak to anybody there but now I teach my own class and I’m quite well respected as a fighter there. I just feel like kickboxing is somewhere I fit, I am part of an amazing team at the BCKA they are like extra family to me. Kickboxing taught me I could be successful, it gave me an attitude to never give up and a sense of discipline. To me it is like an escape from the rest of the world and without it I am totally totally lost. It takes care of my stress and comes so naturally to me that it is a relief in a world where most things don’t. It is strange because when I am fighting I can read a person perfectly – I can sense when they are afraid, I know if they are hurt, when they are pumped up, I can tell sometimes what they are going to do before they do it. When I coach I can even translate these things to who I am coaching, I know what to say and when to say it to a fighter. Yet away from fighting I get lost and confused, I struggle to find the right words and to know where to slot them in. I don’t always pick up on how someone feels and when I do I have no idea how to deal with it.
Asperger’s and kickboxing go perfectly together as far as I am concerned. Aside from the fact that martial arts and fighting disciplines provide structure, routine and boundaries, are confidence building, stress relieving and help to develop muscle tone, proprioception and co-ordination…for me growing up undiagnosed has meant that I know what it means to fight and I know what it takes to win because I had to fight for everything and just to survive in this world.
Jo: Asperger’s Syndrome to me means I need to work harder than everyone else to be successful. I am determined, driven and resilient, I want to succeed, hate to lose and refuse to accept what people believe I can’t do – it is my choice what I do or don’t do. I love to prove people wrong and make no mistake if they ever doubt me I will prove them wrong! One of the biggest things for me is having that good support network, my husband Adam is an absolutely incredible and amazing human being. I often forget to give him credit for what he does for me everyday. We have been together since 17 and he has always refused to walk away no matter how tough things got and they did get pretty tough. Adam is kind, patient and in his own words ‘likes a challenge’. Life in our house is never boring. He is very supportive and without him I would have done nowhere near as much as I have. The biggest thing aside from this was gaining understanding of Asperger’s and applying it to gain an understanding of myself. I’m kinder to myself, don’t put pressure on myself to do the things I can’t. My understanding has helped me to implement a range of solutions to my need for structure and organisation – I live in a goal orientated environment with processes and actions to help achieve the goals I set. Achieving my goals makes me happy. My house is run almost like a business, we have a 22 page household processes manual which enabled me to do the housework. I had to define the process of how things were done before I could do them. There is a lot that goes into me being able to function well on a day to day basis and most of this is never seen!
Jo: I grew up worrying about who I was, hiding and avoiding things. I thought I would never be able to achieve things as simple as getting married and learning to drive but I have managed to win 2 kickboxing world titles, I have trained and qualified as a sport and remedial massage therapist, I’m establishing my own business, teaching kickboxing and speaking to audiences about Asperger’s and my experiences kickboxing. Just in this year I have done far more than I could ever have imagined. The biggest pieces of advice I ever received, and these have shaped my life completely, were first that it was ok to be me – I just think, act and behave differently to others and its not wrong or right. The second was life is about choices, you have two choices you accept something and get on with it or you change it – there’s no need to moan about anything. If I don’t like how my life is I change it. One of the big things I would say is don’t be afraid to have a dream. We all have something we are good at or that interests us, whether on autism spectrum or not, be confident in what you know and what you do. I set myself the goal to be a world champion at 13, never really thinking it would happen but I held on to it and it did. In life everything has to come from you, wherever you are in the world and just because someone else thinks it isn’t possible it doesn’t mean that it is. Celebrate your talents, your achievements and what makes you uniquely you – have a goal, have a dream and never give up on working toward it.
Jo: What I want for the future is simple, I want to be the best that I can be in whatever I choose to do. I want to continue being successful in my sport, establish and be successful in my business and develop myself as a public speaker. I have just recently started writing my book and I’m over halfway through, I’d love to see this published. I also am one of the patrons of autism charity Anna Kennedy Online and I want to help out with awareness where I can. Away from autism my mum also has MS and eventually I would like to raise some money for the local MS Centre which runs solely on donations – they have been a huge lifeline to my mum and do brilliant work. One day I would also like to have a family with my husband. I love to be kept busy and I’d also one day like to perhaps give something back to people like myself. I’d love to help other martial artists competing at a world level fund their sport knowing the difficulties I have had with funding and also I want to be able to help people on the autism spectrum to follow their dreams through providing funding or some kind of grant. It is all a far away idea but something I would love to make happen once I am more settled and perhaps retired from competing myself. I’d also like to study and get a degree in something related to my field, not sure quite what yet. There are quite a lot of things I want to do really!
Twitter – @Joey_BCKA
Instagram – @jobojet
Website – www.joredman.com
Blog – http://jo-redman.blogspot.co.uk/
Tania: Jo, thank-you for joining the Aspienwoman mentor project and for being such a great mentor! Jo’s kickboxing career and highlights here at http://www.bckakickboxing.com/fighter-profiles/jo-redman/
Jo: Thank-you Tania for inviting me and I’m proud to be able to be in a position where I can mentor others.
Tania Marshall©. 2013. AspienWoman Interview Mentor Series. All rights reserved. Duplication in whole or part is explicitly forbidden. Thank you.
Asperger Syndrome (AS) is thought to be the highest functioning form of Autism Spectrum Condition. Females on the Autism Spectrum are underdiagnosed and often come into a clinic with other mental health issues, many labels or diagnoses, some of which include: anxiety disorders, ADHD, sleep disorders, panic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, bi-polar disorder, borderline personality disorder, eating disorders or schizophrenia.
Females on the Spectrum are generally much more social, really good at “faking” it, understanding non-verbal body language, working very hard to “fit in” and “pretending to be normal”.
Women tend to be much more social than men, observe and watch others more in order to learn what to do, learn how to hold their bodies, what to say and when to say it. All of these skills do not come naturally and an enormous amount of energy is put into these skills. Females are generally able to hold it all together during the day and then let it all out at night. At night, the “falling apart” may look like, jumping, screaming, flapping, outbursts or withdrawing into their caves.
Women generally tend to have better empathy and theory of mind skills. However, these theory of mind skills become affected by sensory issues, stressful situations, social situations, processing of verbal information, high levels of anxiety, conflict and/or arguments.
Of those that come into clinics, anorexia nervosa appears to be the most common eating disorder that females (21.7%) on the Spectrum tend to experience (Nichols).
What is the link between eating disorders and Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC)?
There is a overlap, possibly a genetic link between ASC and AN.
The lifetime prevalence of an eating disorder is 0.9%. ASD is highly over represented in AN (12-32%). Some commonalities between ASC and AN include:
1. Executive function deficits
2. Mood and anxiety disorders
4. Rigidity in behavior and thinking
5. Theory of Mind Deficits
Autism Spectrum Characteristics that increase the risk of developing an eating disorder include:
1. Clumsiness and knowing where one’s body is in space
2. Body awareness issue, distorted image of body in space
3. Limited social insight; difficulty with understanding how others see their body
4. Stomach issues, a feeling of no appetite, bloatedness
5. A lack of sense of being hungry or thirsty
6. Medication side effects (SSRI’s, antipsychotic and associated side effects of weight gain)
7. Sensory processing sensitivities
8. Stress management
10. Picky eating
Where does a percentage of almost 1/3 of the population with AN having ASC come from?
51 women over 18 years were evaluated using formal interviews, developmental histories and 32% of those met criteria for ASC, but only 11% of them knew that they had ASC. Their families had no idea that they had ASC. The highest prevalence of personality disorders (OCD) were also present.
In terms of intervention and treatment, a modified treatment schedule is important due to learning difficulties, mental health issues including ASC, a balanced/different course load.
What is desperately needed is a routine global screening program for all females who come into a clinic with an eating disorder. It is critical to know if a client has an ASC or has symptoms of an ASC because the symptoms of ASC do not go away post-treatment. The eating disorder may be alleviated, however the symptoms of the ASC have not. This will help the client, their families and their treatment professionals.
Goals for treatment of an ASC and AN include:
1. Treating the sensory processing condition
2. Improving the rigidity and inflexible thinking processes
3. Improving the range of foods eaten
4. Rigid repetitive behaviors need to be replaced with more functional behaviors
5. Increasing and widening the range of foods eaten
6. Decreasing anxiety levels and improving depression levels
7. Work with the preference for sameness and routine
8. Improving sensory processing issues and desensitizing to aversive foods
S Baron-Cohen, A Jaffa, S Davies, B Auyeung, C Allison, S Wheelwright (2013)
Do girls with anorexia nervosa have elevated autistic traits?
Gillberg C, Cederlund M, Lamberg K, Zeijlon L: Brief report: “the autism epidemic”.
The registered prevalence of autism in a Swedish urban area. J Autism Dev Disord 2006,
Eating Problems and Overlap with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders in a Nationwide Twin Study of 9- and 12-Year-Old Children
CAVEAT: My research is focused on females, due to the lack of research and information on the female profile
Tania Marshall 2013. All rights reserved.
Tania Marshall©. 2013. All rights reserved. Duplication in
whole or part is explicitly forbidden. Thank you.