The myth of the ‘extreme male brain’ means women with autism are struggling to get the help they need
Autism, characterised in the past as a result of an “extreme male brain”, is far more prevalent in women than previously thought but is still often untreated because the stereotype focuses on male behaviour; women, it is commonly believed, mask their symptoms by learning to imitate the behaviour of non-autistic people. But without a diagnosis, experts say, their difficulties with social interaction and attachment to routine are misunderstood at school and then work, leaving them at increased risk of mental health problems including depression, eating disorders and self harm. Often naive and fearful of displeasing people, autistic women are also vulnerable to abuse.
And yet a recently published draft of new guidance, designed to improve the care and support NHS organisations and local authorities give to adults with autism, made no mention of women’s differing needs.