Doctors fail to spot women with autism

Far more women have spent their lives with undiagnosed autism than men, according to experts who say mothers are working out they have the disorder when researching their children’s symptoms.

The National Autistic Society found that 42 per cent of females with autism had been wrongly diagnosed with another condition, compared with 30 per cent of males. Twice as many women as men were undiagnosed.

“There are far more undiagnosed mothers out there than we ever thought,” said Dr Judith Gould, former director of the Lorna Wing Centre for Autism, the diagnostic, assessment and advice service in Kent, speaking to The Guardian. It is thought women are better at masking milder autism than men because they make efforts to be sociable. “These women are coming to prominence now because there’s more information on autism in girls and women on the internet, so they can research their children and in doing so, diagnose themselves,” Dr Gould said.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, founder of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University and the Class clinic, dedicated to diagnosing adults with autism, agreed: “[Undiagnosed mothers are] definitely a growing phenomenon. Putting a number on it is impossible but I’m sure it’s a big number because women seeking diagnoses of autism were likely to be dismissed until just a few years ago, because autism in females was thought to be very rare.”

Autism among women and girls has only started to be widely acknowledged in the past two to three years. The men to women ratio is now recognised as being between 3:1 to 2:1, although some experts believe there are just as many females with autism as there are males.

Dr Catriona Stewart, founder of the Scottish Women’s Autism Network, who has studied autism for over 10 years, described “a hidden pool of women who have grown up with undiagnosed autism”.

“These women can finally recognise the condition in themselves because they can use the internet to research their children’s condition, then seek a diagnosis for themselves from a world that’s finally ready to acknowledge them,” she said.

Dr Stewart only realised she was autistic when investigating her daughter’s autistic symptoms.

Stella Turner
Stella Turner

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