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Women may be better at hiding autism symptoms than men, study says

Women may be better at hiding autism symptoms than men, study says – and this ‘social camouflage’ may stand in the way of diagnosis for many

  • An study suggests women may be better than men at hiding autism symptoms 
  • ‘Social camouflaging’ helps to mask common indicators from doctors its says
  • As a result, many women may fall through the cracks and lack treatment
  • Results may help to train doctors to better diagnose and treat those with autism

New research suggests that women’s ability to hide signs of autism may lead to lower rates of diagnosis.

In a study published in the journal Autism and presented at the British Science Festival at the University of Warwick, researchers from the University College London say that a phenomenon known as ‘social camouflaging’ may help those with autism avoid detection.

Women, according to the researchers, were more likely to exhibit the tactic than men.

The results are based on an online survey that surveyed respondents in an effort to gather insight on camouflaging tactics from both autistic and non-autistic adults.

While no differences were recorded between the non-autistic respondents, scientists noticed behavioral discrepancies between the autistic respondents — an outcome that mirrors previous self-reported studies. 

New research could help shed light on how women may be more likely to avoid a diagnosis of autism compared to their male counterparts. Stock image

Researchers say camouflaging tactics included making better eye contact and avoiding urges to move in ways characteristic of people diagnosed with autism like rocking or shaking one’s hands.

As reported by The Guardian, researchers say that the techniques likely derive from women’s ability to mimic other non-autistic counterparts to develop a type of ‘persona’ and come from a desire for self-preservation.

‘In its most complex form, [social camouflaging] involves the adoption of a persona. In women particularly, this might involve observing other women or girls who appear to be popular, and copying their gestures or clothing,’ Dr Will Mandy, from University College London told The Guardian.

‘What I’m finding interesting is how ubiquitous camouflaging is. When you start to dig into why, it’s quite alarming; for starters it’s experienced as an obligation rather than a choice. It’s very often about self-preservation, avoiding bullying or attack.’ 


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with autism have trouble with social, emotional and communication skills that usually develop before the age of three and last throughout a person’s life. 

Specific signs of autism include: 

  • Reactions to smell, taste, look, feel or sound are unusual
  • Difficulty adapting to changes in routine
  • Unable to repeat or echo what is said to them
  • Difficulty expressing desires using words or motions
  • Unable to discuss their own feelings or other people’s
  • Difficulty with acts of affection like hugging
  • Prefer to be alone and avoid eye contact
  • Difficulty relating to other people
  • Unable to point at objects or look at objects when others point to them

Autism has increasingly come into focus among medical professionals as diagnosis rates in the US and abroad have continued to climb.    

A recent study from the University of Colorado Boulder shows that rates in the US are rising fastest among Hispanic and black children.

Researchers say that rates of the developmental disorder in children born between 2007 and 2013 rose 73 percent among Hispanics and 44 percent among blacks.

Meanwhile it increased just 25 percent among white children – albeit a surprise after it plateaued in the mid-2000s.

The team, from the University of Colorado Boulder, says that, although some of the rise can be attributed to better outreach and diagnosis among minority populations, it believes other environmental factors are involved.

Researchers say further research on social camouflaging will not only expand understanding of the condition, but will help doctors to make diagnoses of autism and broaden the scope of understood symptoms. 

‘I’ve spoken to a lot of [autistic] women who say they presented to their GP, but because they used these social camouflaging strategies like using eye contact and communicating well, they have missed an autism diagnosis,’ Hannah Hayward, a researcher on autism in women at King’s College London told The Guardian.

‘[Social camouflaging] is not a common diagnostic criterion at the moment, but if it was then I think more females would be diagnosed. We need to be doing better as a society in picking this up, and shifting our perspectives of what autism is.’


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