Autism (a milder form was previously called Asperger syndrome) is a neurological condition that affects how the brain processes information. Typical characteristics of the condition mostly include difficulties in forming and maintaining close relationships due to an inability to easily bond and relate to others.
As research has developed a greater understanding of the broad characteristics of Autism, it has become clear that this condition is more prevalent than previously thought. Less than 10 years ago in 2015, it was estimated that up to 1 in 150 Australians had Autism. Presently in 2023 however, this figure is now 1 in 70. It is not necessarily that more Australians are developing Autism, but more due to the fact that we are now better at recognising Autism thanks to emerging research and greater awareness.
Due to the broad spectrum of Autism, diagnosis can be difficult, especially among those who are high functioning, and female. One of the reasons why Autism in girls and women often goes undetected is that they tend to have interests that are more likely to culturally blend in (i.e., pop culture, animals, and humanitarianism). Due to the differences in the presentation of Autism between females and males, a staggering 80% of women with Autism remain undiagnosed at the age of 18.
There are a number of symptoms that vary in intensity among adults with autism. Some of the more common symptoms include: difficulties in understanding what others are feeling or thinking, anxiety in social situations, social isolating, difficulty making friends, coming across as blunt, rude, or uninterested in others, difficulties expressing feelings, compulsive routines, and taking the words people say literally (i.e., not understanding the phrase “break a leg”). As previously mentioned, Autism can present quite differently between males and females. Males tend to engage in very repetitive and limited behaviours, while females tend to be less repetitive and engage in broader behaviours. Males are less likely than females to be able to respond to non-verbal cues such as body language or gaze following. Females with Autism also tend to behave less confrontationally or intensely compared to males with Autism.
Regardless of whether you’re a woman or a man, appropriate support (especially around social skills training) can help you to gain insight and coping strategies. Psychological therapy can also assist with emotional regulation (managing feelings). Once these new techniques are adopted into everyday activities, life becomes easier with closer bonds and less conflict and isolation. If you or someone you love is finding relationships hard, take comfort in knowing that Autism is treatable.