Autistic women and girls
More men and boys are currently diagnosed as autistic than women and girls. This is changing slowly but surely, as more women and girls are being diagnosed as autistic.
Attitudes towards autism and gender are changing, although we still have a long way to go. Many autistic women and girls are still struggling to get the support they need.
Here, we explain more about the gender diagnosis gap, share stories from autistic women and girls, and share some theories on why more men and boys are being diagnosed as autistic.
You can also visit our gender identity page here, where we look at autism and gender identity in more detail.
Are men more likely to be diagnosed as autistic than women?
Studies and statistics
- Various studies suggest that the ratio of autistic males to females ranges from 2:1 to 16:1. The most-up-to-date estimate is 3:1.
- In Leo Kanner's 1943 study of a small group of autistic children, there were four times as many boys as girls.
- Lorna Wing (renowned psychiatrist and co-founder of our charity's first diagnosis centre) found in her 1981 paper on autism and sex ratios in early childhood, that among people with a diagnosis of 'high-functioning autism' or Asperger syndrome (as it was called at the time) there were 15 times more men and boys than women and girls, while in autistic people with learning difficulties, the ratio of men and boys to women and girls was closer to 2:1.
- In a much larger 1993 study of Asperger syndrome in mainstream schools in Sweden, Ehlers and Gillberg found a boy to girl ratio of 4:1.
- Brugha's 2009 survey of adults living in households throughout England found that 1.8% of men and boys surveyed had a diagnosis of autism, compared to 0.2% of women and girls.
- In 2015, the ratio of men to women supported by the National Autistic Society’s adult services was approximately 3:1, and the ratio of boys to girls in our charity’s schools was approximately 5:1.
- In a 2017 study, Loomes and other researchers analysed existing prevalence studies and found that the male-to-female ratio was nearer 3:1.
What autistic women have to say
Many of the autistic women we’ve spoken to have talked about getting a late diagnosis, or have had difficulty getting the support they need.
As part of our Stories from the Spectrum series, we interviewed several women and girls, who shared their experiences with us.
"I feel autistic women are more likely to be described as ‘anxious’ and an autism diagnosis overlooked, since it can challenge gender stereotypes."
Sara Gibbs, autistic comedy writer, told us: "I think there is a lack of understanding of how autism can present in girls, who are often socialised differently."
Charl Davies, autistic tattoo artist, said: "I find that being a female I am expected to behave a certain way to fit in socially which is why I have spent so much time masking."
Dr Camilla Pang, autistic scientist and author, explained: "I feel autistic women are more likely to be described as ‘anxious’ and an autism diagnosis overlooked, since it can challenge gender stereotypes."
Dr Kate Fox, autistic poet and comedian, said: "I don’t think there’s an inherent difference between autistic men and women. What there is a difference in, is how society treats and socialises males and females."
Why are more men diagnosed as autistic?
There have been various theories to explain why more men and boys get an autism diagnosis.
Research and knowledge about autism changes constantly. Some of these theories may not reflect how we think about autism today.
- there is a 'female autism phenotype' - in other words autistic females have characteristics which don’t fit with the profile
- the 'extreme male brain' theory of autism, which focuses on the effects of foetal testosterone on brain development
- a range of biological and environmental factors may mean men and boys have a higher prevalence of autism
- women and girls are often better at masking or camouflaging their difficulties
- autism traits in girls are under-reported by teachers.
Critiques of the extreme male brain theory
Girls and Autism: Flying Under the Radar - useful advice for parents and teachers on supporting autistic girls in school
The Spectrum magazine
Explore one of the UK's largest collections of autistic art, poetry, and prose. The Spectrum magazine is created by and for autistic people, and is available both online and in print.
Autism and gender identity
We look at the connection between autism and gender identity, and hear stories from non-binary and transgender autistic people.
Related professional practice
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