“There is increasing evidence that … autism symptoms in women and girls are frequently overlooked and misdiagnosed.”Robert T. Muller
Autistic females and some males who have not yet received an autism diagnosis often go through life with only partial explanations for their difficulties and differences. These explanations usually come in the form of psychiatric and mental health misdiagnoses, incorrect, or partial diagnoses.
- Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Social anxiety disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Anorexia and/or other eating disorders
It should be noted that just as these conditions can co-occur in various combinations in those who are not autistic (aka neurotypical), autistic individuals can also have one or more of the above conditions. The majority of autistic individuals, for example, are diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression and/or PTSD at some point in their lives, either as a direct result of autism or from living in a world that is discriminatory to autistic people and autistic traits.
Many individuals on the spectrum have significant and numerous experiences of being bullied, rejected, sexually abused, and otherwise mistreated and victimized. There is significant evidence showing that those on the spectrum are more naive, trusting, and desperate for acceptance from peers — and therefore more likely to get into abusive relationships (due to not noticing or responding to red flags sooner) and other scenarios that put them at risk.
So why should we be concerned?
“I’ve been through quite a long journey, being given about 10 mental health diagnoses along the way. It was getting to that point where it felt like I was caught in the middle of a guessing game. … ‘We don’t really understand — let’s keep throwing labels and see what sticks.'”Emily Swiatek
When an undiagnosed autistic adult is diagnosed with any of the above conditions or other mental health conditions, it’s only part of the picture.
An undiagnosed autistic individual who receives misdiagnoses or partial diagnoses can experience significant problems with stigma and discrimination (especially in the case of schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder), and even discrimination from healthcare professionals who specialize in treatment of these conditions.
They can also receive years of unnecessary psychotropic medications and various forms of talk therapy with little to no positive impact on their lives (often due to the therapist or psychologist not understanding autism and therefore not able to address the main presenting concerns). This can lead to significant frustration, hopelessness, and a tendency to self-blame.
Most importantly, undiagnosed autistic adults who have received wrong or partial mental health diagnoses lack the knowledge that will set them on the path to self-acceptance.
For autistic individuals of any age, sex, gender, and ethnicity, self-understanding and self-acceptance are key to contentment and thriving in life.