In previous blogs, we discussed some of the reasons why women with high-functioning autism are commonly misdiagnosed or diagnosed later in life. Unfortunately, it can be quite challenging to find a competent mental health care provider to diagnose and provide quality therapy and support. Last week we talked about how autistic burnout and meltdowns often lead to a neuropsychological evaluation and an autism diagnosis. So today, I want to discuss some strategies you can use to interview potential mental health care professionals to support you from diagnosis to care.
High-Functioning Autism is Still Largely Misunderstood and Misdiagnosed by Professionals
Even though it is becoming better understood, high-functioning autism and autism in women are still largely misunderstood or written off. This leaves many individuals undiagnosed or diagnosed later in life after years of struggle and feeling utterly misunderstood. In the past, autism was believed to primarily affect males. Therefore women who exhibited signs of being on the spectrum were often dismissed. Or, they may be diagnosed with anxiety, depression, OCD, or bipolar disorder to name a few. But, after years of treatment for anxiety and/or depression, women with undiagnosed autism usually realize there has to be something more to the picture. If you’re noticing this about yourself, listen to your instincts! It makes sense to learn more about autism. You can read books and blogs, and listen to videos and podcasts about autism in women. If you identify with what you are learning about on autism in women, then it makes sense to consider an ASD assessment.
Masking Makes Autism in Women Hard to Identify
It can be difficult to find a professional who can properly diagnose autism in women. To make matters more challenging, many women with autism excel at masking their autistic traits to fit in with their peers who are allistic (non-autistic) or neurotypical (neurologically typical). Although inside they always feel like an alien or different, many autistic women work hard at hiding it so others don’t notice. This is one of the reasons why professionals miss autism in women.
However, the constant toll of masking causes autistic burnout for women. This may be what finally gets the attention of care providers. Which, hopefully, leads to a recommendation to get a neuropsychological evaluation. Very few can lead an unauthentic life forever. It causes stress, strain, imposter syndrome, depression, anxiety and other issues.
Perhaps, you have inquired about a diagnosis before, or maybe you’ve even had a neuropsychological evaluation. But, you were told you’re not on the spectrum. But, if you’re reading this blog, I assume you do not agree with that conclusion. Many of our clients share that they have brought up concerns they may be on the spectrum only to have doctors or therapists tell them they’re wrong. This can be very invalidating and upsetting.
What You Can Do If You Believe You Are On the Spectrum
This is a critical time in the lives of neurodivergent individuals. A neuropsychological evaluation with a mental health professional who truly understands neurodiversity can change your life. You can finally get the answers you have been looking for and the support you need. But, it’s critical that you find a care provider who can accurately diagnose your autism traits and look past the common misconceptions many care providers have about what autism is or is not.
Occasionally, we have individuals call our California autism therapy clinic looking for evaluations. That’s not a thing we offer at this time. But, we do suggest you interview a potential psychologist before scheduling an assessment. Therefore, we came up with some suggestions of questions you can ask when you first call or meet with a potential care provider. I would like to share that with you today.
- How much experience do you have diagnosing autism in women?
- What is your understanding of how autism presents differently in women than men?
What you should listen for…
Regarding question #1, things you should listen for during an interview include a good amount of experience diagnosing autism in women. In particular, inquire about their experience diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Level 1 in women. Women with ASD Level 1 can be the hardest to identify and diagnose because their symptoms are the least overt or severe (often because they are masked). Just because their symptoms are not overt does not mean they aren’t suffering inside. Life and everyday social interactions for an autistic woman can feel very stressful or draining. ASD Level 1 is like an Asperger’s profile, which is the mildest form of autism. Typically, the person diagnosed with ASD Level 1 would not have a co-occurring intellectual disability and might even be intellectually gifted. Yet, they still struggle communicating with others. They might unintentionally hurt people’s feelings or feel like they say the wrong thing. They might not pick up on subtle social cues or body language, and try to fit in through masking.
In regards to question #2, you’re looking for them to describe the concept of masking. They may use related terms like masking, camouflaging, mimicry (mimicking neurotypical social behavior), or imitation to fit in. If they can describe masking in a way that makes sense to you, then they may be more equipped to help you.
Final Thoughts on Getting a Diagnosis and Interviewing Mental Health Care Providers…
I imagine the moments that led you to read this blog may have been very challenging and upsetting. I am so sorry you’ve had to endure these tough times. But, I encourage you to keep trying. Keep looking for answers to explain why you feel the way you do. This will help you get the support you deserve.
If you’re looking for a place to start, please check out our autism resources page. Here we list several directories you can use to find providers in your area and get support.
If you believe you’re on the autism spectrum and living in the state of California, we would be honored to talk with you about the autism therapy services we offer online. We offer online autism therapy, online autism group therapy, parent coaching and consulting, online autism parents support group, and online autism family therapy to support you and your loved ones.
Begin Online Autism Therapy in California
If you live in California and are ready to learn more about therapy for yourself or a loved one, please reach out to us so we can discuss the ways we can help you. To begin online autism therapy in California, follow these steps:
- Contact us for a free phone consultation using this link. You will meet with our client care coordinator.
- Like us on Facebook. On our page, we post useful information about our practice
- Sign up to receive our newsletter.
Other Services offered at Open Doors Therapy:
Our autism therapy clinic located in the South Bay Area serves teens and adults on the spectrum. We help high functioning individuals who identify as having Aspergers, high functioning autism, undiagnosed ASD traits, and their families.
Right now, we are providing all our autism counseling services online. Our autism therapists offer a variety of counseling services including individual counseling for autistic teens and adults, parent counseling, and group therapy. Also, we run several different social skills groups for neurodiverse working professionals, college students with autistic traits, gifted youth & caregivers, neurodiverse adults, women who identify as neurodiverse, a summer social skills college transition training program for youth transitioning to college, teens & caregivers, and a mothers group. Contact our therapy office for more information on our services or to schedule a consultation.
About the Author
Dr. Tasha Oswald is a trained developmental and clinical psychologist. She is also is the founder and director of Open Doors Therapy, a private practice specializing in autism therapy services in the South Bay Area, near San Francisco, CA. Dr. Oswald specializes in helping neurodiverse teens and adults and facilitating social skills groups.