Autistic females flying under the radar
Autistic girls are frequently overlooked for an autism diagnosis, or misdiagnosed. When an autism diagnosis is finally received this often happens significantly later in life when they are teenagers or adults.
Diagnostic and screening tests can be less adept at picking up the variation in girls’ presentation of autism. Autistic girls are more likely to camouflage their autistic characteristics, through masking or compensating their difficulties. Non-diagnosis or a misdiagnosis can have a significant impact on women and girls’ development and outcomes.
These all-too-common experiences of autistic women are reflected upon by Meg, an Ambitious about Autism Youth Patron, who shares her journey as a young autistic woman.
Putting autistic females under the spotlight
Despite hiding in plain sight for years, I now desire to use my experience to help others.
My journey to finding out I am autistic differs from most, my family and I knew I was different from a young age, being diagnosed with dyspraxia at two and a half and then with dyslexia at 18. Even after these diagnoses we did not feel quite fulfilled or felt like we had the answers we were hoping for.
Many women like me fly under the radar, their autistic traits fail to be recognised and we spend subsequent years wondering why we do not always fit in. For me, I used to always wonder why I wasn’t like all the other girls in school and why I always managed to not say the right thing (or sometimes nothing at all for that matter). I thought that by buying the same pair of pink Converses this would act as an enabler for me to fit in, but I was very wrong. Conversely, I am now proud of who I am and more than happy to be myself – as everyone else is taken!
The road to diagnosis
On the whole, autistic women mask their traits, making it harder to be diagnosed and access the necessary support – something which I experienced a lot prior to being diagnosed. For example, when I went for my assessment I was told that they were not sure if I was autistic or if I had borderline personality disorder. Many women get misdiagnosed or missed and I was nearly one of them. When I was 18 I had an identity crisis and that accelerated my family's determination to initiate the autism diagnosis process.
After years of blaming myself for problems I had or things I have been through, I was diagnosed with autism six months ago aged 21. To say that this diagnosis has changed my life would be an understatement. I now have a deeper, more thorough, and accurate understanding of myself and who I am despite the journey to getting here being rocky.
I am grateful for my diagnosis, the support I am receiving and being part of Ambitious Youth Network which has accelerated my self-belief, confidence and enabled me to make friends – something I have found really challenging over the past 21 years. I have found a place I belong, and I couldn’t be happier.
My top tips for autistic young people:
- Be as open as possible about your experiences – it is just as valid.
- Allow yourself to discover what makes you happy.
- Talk to someone you trust.
About the authors
Meg is a member of the Ambitious Youth Network.
Michelle is the Training and Consultancy Manager at Ambitious about Autism and responsible for the development, creation and delivery of training products and consultancy services.