Last year, in my late 40s, I was diagnosed with autism. I’ve always known I was different, and sought a formal diagnosis after the traits I’ve lived with for almost five decades became progressively more difficult to manage.
I’m certainly not the only woman who has had to wait a long time for a diagnosis. In its 2012 survey of more than 8,000 autistic people and family members in the UK, the NAS found that women and girls were more likely to be misdiagnosed than men and boys (41% of females had been diagnosed with another condition on assessment, compared to 30% of males). And once they were diagnosed, women and girls were less likely to access extra support. In cases of Asperger syndrome, only 8% of girls were diagnosed before they had reached the age of six, compared to 25% of boys; and only 20% of girls were diagnosed by the age of 11, compared to 50% of boys. Many women remain undiagnosed until their 20s or 30s.
To anyone in my situation, if you want a diagnosis ask your GP whether you can be assessed. But know that, as a woman, you might be misdiagnosed at first because you’ve probably become adept at covering up traits and behaviour that others have told you is unacceptable. Women are generally raised and expected to be compliant, so diagnostic markers of autism are often self-suppressed and internalised.
For me the diagnosis was liberation from a life of censure, which targeted aspects of my personality over which I have no control. I was often told that my thoughts and feelings were stupid, that I was odd or weird or my emotions were inappropriate. The people who loved me, loved my passion; those who didn’t called me aggressive. That taught me to be quiet and to try to suppress what I thought. I felt relief on being diagnosed and when I discussed it online I received such supportive responses from others diagnosed later in life too that for the first time I felt I belonged.
– Nicola Clark