High Functioning Autism in Young Women

Simple steps parents and educators can take to recognize the signs of High Functioning Autism/Asperger’s in young women

shutterstock_16462813What is wrong with Mary? Why doesn’t my daughter or student fit in? These can be the most difficult, gut-wrenching questions that parents and educators ask themselves regarding their female children or students. All too often, adult caregivers second-guess their instincts. After all, it is developmentally appropriate for adolescents to push away from their parents and begin to establish their own identities (Erikson, 1968).  Most young people will also experience some social, emotional, organizational, or other challenges as they transition from adolescence to independent adulthood. However, individuals without High Functioning Autism/Asperger’s (HFA) will not experience them with the frequency and/or the degree to which individuals with HFA will. This simple fact is the key to developing appropriate diagnostic tools.

How do we know what to look for, and how to recognize the signs of HFA in the individual being screened? For individuals with signs of HFA, this is typically a multistep process. First, someone must recognize that there is the potential need for screening (a high-level or universal screen for potential challenges). Then, further diagnostic analyses can be carried out as needed. Increased prevalence rates of HFA and other categories of autism tell us that we are making significant strides in recognizing the condition (Bashe & Krirby, 2010); however, the number of adult women who are being diagnosed with HFA, after years of suffering, also tells us that we have a significant amount of research ahead of us (Attwood, Grandin, Bolick & Faherty, 2006).

It is essential that parents and educators become experts in recognizing the signs of HFA in girls and young women. After all, parents, teachers and friends know our girls and young women best. Once deficits are recognized, we can help them receive the diagnostic screening and interventions that may be necessary to improve their quality of life.

Simple Steps a Parent or Educator Can Take:

1. Perform an annual screen (evaluation) of the girl/young women compared to her same-age female peers.

Rating Scale of Incidences of Challenges Compared to Female Peers: 1 = Lower, 2 = Same, 3 = Higher

Brief Checklist for Some of the Signs of Autism
a.      Challenges in social interaction (1, 2, 3)
b.      Unusual or challenges in communication (1, 2, 3)
c.      Perseveration including intense or ritualized behavior (1, 2, 3)
d.      Sensory challenges (1, 2, 3)

2. Share these findings with your child’s teacher/doctor/school psychologist or other support provider.

The results of your findings will give you and your child’s support provider a place to begin a conversation and pursue resources. You may complete this simple screen more often and note your findings under different scenarios. You may find that the challenges your daughter or student is experiencing are “normal”. You may find that the results lead you to request a comprehensive evaluation. Minimally, you will be able to develop a record of challenges your child or student is experiencing in order to build a more complete diagnostic picture.

My colleague Dr. Debra Eisert and I are developing a more in-depth screen. If you are a parent or educator of a young woman (ages 13 -26) with HFA and you would like to participate, please email me at haideeangela@gmail.com, and I will send you a link to our research study.

Finding solutions that improve the lives of individuals with autism and the people who support them is a goal we all share. If you have a question or a comment that you would like to share, please post.