Could you be an autistic woman?

By Maxine and Daniel

Mothers of kids with an autism spectrum diagnosis: can we talk?

Many of you confide that you suspect ASD in your spouse.

This is what I hear:

  • He can’t multi-task, has awkward social skills, and retreats to the computer or other special interest at every opportunity.
  • He doesn’t know to help when there is lots to do (ten people are coming for dinner in an hour, the house is an awful mess and he is waxing the desk in the basement office).
  • He is too tough on the kids or way too lenient with the kids.

This is what you tell me:
You love him. You don’t understand him.

Would it surprise you that your spouse may harbour the same suspicions about you?

While women on the spectrum may raise kids, run households, corporations, or marathons, female autistic behaviors may affect many areas of functioning. Women on the spectrum tend to be smart, well-spoken, and can be highly-educated. They have lots of gifts and can be tons of fun! Still, there are a few things that can be a tad...trying...for a partner unless he or she understands where the issues are coming from. As we say, change understanding—change actions.

These anecdotal issues can certainly impact family functioning as well as relationships with your co-workers or extended family. Here is a partial list. Recognize anyone?:

  • Might have a strong aversion to scary movies, scary music, psychological thrillers—anything that triggers the anxiety response.
  • Crying jags are common, especially when tired or hungry.
  • Meltdowns and tantrums that were common in childhood can continue into her adult life—especially with sensory overload or too many expectations at once.
  • Can be very resilient, as in able to reinvent themselves or bounce back from personal set-backs or major life challenges.
  • Commonly have lots of anxiety, fear; may be diagnosed depression.
  • Can be quite empathetic and intuitive. Very tuned to the emotions of others; if someone is not happy or is hurting, she can almost feel it. It really affects her mood.
  • May have a hard time keeping her emotions in check, resulting in socially inappropriate response.
  • Can have a hard time communicating how she feels, especially if stressed out. Can become mute if overwhelmed with emotion.
  • Can have a real problem asking anyone to do anything for them. Finds it really difficult to ask for help.
  • May be blunt—too blunt, and then be surprised if people tell her she was hurtful or rude.
  • She gives so much detail when she talks that she bores people and buries the main point.
  • Writes lengthy, detail-laden emails that can overwhelm the recipient. Has a hard time figuring out what is important and what is less so.
  • Expects immediate responses to her emails.
  • Hates injustice—has a finely tunes sense of right and wrong. Will not let an issue go until she is fully understood. Might point out the mistakes of others though she feels terrible if she is corrected herself.
  • Is often brilliant with great long-term memory. Can be highly artistic and creative.
  • Unless appearance is a special interest, will prefer a low-maintenance hair style. Often have really long hair. May have no fashion sense unless fashion is a special interest).
  • May really need to control the routines in the household. May be happier in the home because she can control what happens there.
  • Can be fidgety—twirling or chewing hair is common; may rock when sitting or standing. Sensory preferences can continue into adulthood. Intimacy can have sensory aspects that are really challenging (for example, 'spooning' in the afterglow can feel like torture of 1,000 needles when combined with body heat and a partners chest hair).
  • Women with AS may have sensory and digestive differences. They may be very picky eaters who don’t really know when they are hungry (or full) or thirsty until they are VERY hungry or thirsty. At this point, they may have very little patience. This is when we can see crying, meltdowns, or low mood.
  • Prefers to have one close relationship (often a spouse); may not have a close girlfriend, though she can have many acquaintances; prefers the company of her family. Dislikes work lunches and social functions.
  • Grew up copying others to try and fit in. Never really liked the gossipy small talk that girls engage in.
  • May love fantasy books, movies, art—and may have had an active imaginary world as a child. Animation and anime art are a favorite area of expertise.
  • Can have anxiety from being misunderstood all her life. Her words, tone and expression are often misinterpreted.
  • If she has to be overly social for a period of time, it can take her days to get over this.
  • Loves to spend time with her special interest. This can be reading, movies, art, crafts, couponing, social issues—or something entirely different. Interests can change quickly or be lifelong.
  • Can be great a presenting to group but unable to attend a party because of social anxiety.
  • Can take things too literally and miss jokes, but have a great sense of humour herself.
  • Can be highly disorganized and messy. Has a difficult time managing both home and work responsibility—she may do a good job, but is highly anxious in achieving it. Has a pervasive sense of dread that she is going to forget something very important and people will figure out that she finds her roles difficult.
  • Can be highly expressive and emotional or withdrawn and unable to share feelings. Is sometimes accused of being cold and unfeeling. She’s not!
  • On the whole, they tend to be independent, determined, focused, talented, creative, and empathetic
  • They often love solitude, their family, knowledge and understanding.
  • Can be self-taught ‘experts’ with superior intelligence.
  • Women with AS have a higher risk of eating disorders--almost 30% of women with anorexia nervosa are women on the autism spectrum
  • Women with AS feel terrible if they feel they have done something wrong. If they are told they’ve done something incorrectly, they have a really hard time letting go of it.
  • Women with AS avoid conflict like the plague—unless someone is threatening their cubs! Moms with AS will often step way outside of their comfort zones in order to get their children what they need.
  • Though women with AS avoid confrontation, they will step up to protect the rights of others if they perceive an injustice. They are finely tuned to social injustice and often want to save the whole world.