ADHD and Autism in Females Highly Overlooked

by Paige Werden ‘21

Autism, though less common in females than males, has been shown alongside ADHD, which is very common in females, to be highly overlooked by parents, schools, and healthcare professionals. This barrier acts as a huge detriment to the ADHD and Autism community, hindering women with these conditions from succeeding in life.

Autism, characterized by inappropriate social interactions, little eye contact, repetitive movements, inattentiveness, self-harm, compulsive behavior, difficulty with communication, and persistent repetition of words and sounds, can be misdiagnosed and misunderstood in girls because “This social avoidance and minimal eye contact can be interpreted by others as shyness,” and “Shyness is considered to be culturally acceptable female behavior. Therefore, family members and medical professionals can misinterpret autistic behavior for shyness and introversion,” says Dr. Tasha Oswald. 

Though boys are more likely to have autism than girls and “. . . more than four boys for every autistic girl [are diagnosed], according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control,” as reported by Child Mind Institute, females are often inclined to hide their true self and autistic traits in fear that they will be judged. 

In many studies done on autism in females they “. . . found that girls with high levels of autistic traits but without behavior or learning problems may be missed by the tools used to diagnose ASD,” and this “. . . may [also] be due to a gender bias in diagnosis or because girls are able to adapt better to their condition than the boys,” reported Simpson’s Powering Autism Research.

Like Autism, ADHD can also be harder to detect in females because . . . many medical conditions in children can mirror ADHD symptoms” and “The most difficult differential diagnosis to make is between ADHD and bipolar mood disorder,” says Healthline.

As proven by Stephen Hinshaw, a psychology professor at Berkeley, “ADHD is an equal-opportunity condition. Yet 50 percent fewer girls are referred for ADHD evaluations and treatment than boys,” says an expert on ADHD in females, Ellen Kingsley.

This phenomenon may be supported by the fact that, “Historically, research on ADHD has focused almost exclusively on hyperactive little boys, and only in the past six or seven years has any research focused on adult ADHD. . . and  the recognition of females [with the disorder] has lagged even further behind,” says Chesapeake Psychological Services director. 

Though more research has been done to help recognize ADHD and Autism in women, there is still a highly unbalanced diagnosis rate and many who are diagnosed much later in life. 

A woman named Joanne Dacobe spoke up to Newshub saying “. . . she was finally diagnosed at age 48 due to the effects of an “autistic burnout,” which she defines as the long-term psychological exhaustion of trying to act normal,” reports the Organization For Autism Research. 

These women are constantly masking their symptoms in order to fit into society while their issues go unresolved for years, sometimes decades. No one should have to feel that they are different or need to change their personality in order to make others feel comfortable especially when many can not control their symptoms.