The purpose of this paper is to review the barriers that girls and women face in receiving an accurate and timely autism diagnosis. The journey to late-in-life diagnosis will be explored with a focus on mental health and well-being. The aim is to improve the awareness of the female autism phenotype to provide access to early identification and appropriate supports and services.
The author’s clinical experience as an individual, couple and family therapist specializing in girls and women with autism informs the paper. Research on co-occurring mental health experience and diagnoses are reviewed and combined with case examples to outline the themes leading to and obscuring autism diagnosis.
Females with autism are less likely to be diagnosed or are identified much later than their male counterparts. Living with unidentified autism places significant mental strain on adults, particularly females. Achieving a late-in-life diagnosis is very valuable for adults and can improve self-awareness and access to limited support.
Mental health professionals will develop a better understanding of the overlap between autism and psychiatric conditions and should consider autism in females who are seeking intervention.
This paper provides a clinical approach to working with autistic girls and women. This knowledge can complement the existing research literature and help build the foundation for a greater understanding of the female autism phenotype.
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