A common emotion that most of my autistic clients share is loneliness. This is an especially challenging emotion to live with. Today, I wanted to take some time to discuss why women on the autism spectrum are predisposed to loneliness. Then, I will share how my Neurodiverse Women’s Group provides a community of support.
Loneliness is Common Amongst Autistic Women
Many women with ASD experience feelings of loneliness because they don’t seem to fit in with their peers, and especially with other women in their lives. Women in general are expected to conform to a set of social norms. But, this is hard to do when you have autism and have difficulty picking up on unspoken social rules. Chit chat is part of the social norm for women. However, autistic women tend not to enjoy social chit chat. They also have difficulty understanding the social nuances of interactions amongst women. Many neurotypical women commonly use indirect and nonverbal forms of communication, such as facial expressions or tone of voice to convey meaning. Autistic women can feel mystified by these subtle social cues. Furthermore, autistic women tend to lack interest in topics commonly discussed by neurotypical women. Ultimately, all of this leads autistic women to feel like outsiders.
Many women on the autism spectrum experienced bullying or social rejection which leads them to feel bad about themselves.
Sadly, many autistic women have been bullied or victimized by their peers. Although neurodiverse women want to create meaningful relationships with their peers, they are often met with rejection or ridicule. They are not understood or accepted by their peers. This is due to their direct communication style or their lack of eye contact, facial expressions. Also, their small talk can be perceived as impolite or rude.
Social rejection causes autistic women to doubt their social competence and self-worth. Many autistic women naturally struggle with understanding what to do or say next in conversations. The fear of social rejection makes the stakes feel even higher for conversations. And, this can magnify feelings of self-doubt. This often leads to social anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression. Ultimately, these anxieties and feelings of inadequacy can lead them to shut down.
Many women with autism find it easier to connect with male peers
Based on my own work, I have found that many autistic women have struggled to make and keep close female friends. Actually, they find it’s easier to connect with men. Neurotypical men, similar to autistic women, are more likely to discuss facts and statistics rather than feelings.
However, women with autism are at higher risk for sexual exploitation and assault. A 2019 study out of London found that autistic women reported being more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors than neurotypical women. Autistic women in the study said that they engage in these risky behaviors because they have trouble understanding social situations. Many of my clients have shared similar stories with me at my autism therapy clinic in Palo Alto, CA. I find that autistic women have difficulty identifying red flags in relationships. They also struggle to understand and set healthy boundaries in relationships. Trauma can feel like a very isolating experience. Especially, if you don’t have emotional support from a mental health professional or a loved one.
Women with Autism Often Suffer From Imposter Syndrome
Women with autism tend to be good at “camouflaging” or “masking” their autism traits. Oftentimes, they feel like they have to fake it to fit into the neurotypical world. But, this leads to feeling like a fraud. This is referred to as imposter syndrome. Women, especially women who are a minority (like women with autism), have a greater likelihood of developing imposter syndrome.
Many high functioning autistic women work in male-dominated industries. Even neurotypical women in male-dominated industries encounter microaggressions from their male colleagues. These microaggressions are meant to undermine and demean women in the workplace. This can cause women to feel like they don’t belong in that work setting and are a fraud. So, being both autistic and a woman in a male-dominated industry can put one at a higher risk for imposter syndrome.
Neurodiversity in Women is Not Well Researched, Which Causes Misunderstandings
High-functioning autistics are rarely identifiable unless they disclose their autism. You can’t walk down the street and know they are on the spectrum. So they exhaust themselves trying to conform to the social norms. But, often fall short to no fault of their own. This causes them to feel extremely lonely.
Historically most research on autism has been done on neurodiverse males. So, many health care providers, educators, and mental health professionals tend to overlook autism as a possible cause for a woman’s behavioral or social difficulties. Furthermore, because the clients I help are high functioning, they are at an even greater risk of falling through the cracks. Women with autism are often misdiagnosed and misunderstood by mental health and medical providers. This further isolates them and leads to loneliness. No one really understands what they’re going through because they don’t necessarily fit the stereotypical autism label. It makes it very hard for people to provide appropriate therapy and interventions to meet their unique needs.
Resources for Autistic Women
I know the beginning of this blog seems heavy, but I assure you, help is available. I am taking strides towards advancing therapy services and programs tailored to meet the needs of neurodiverse women. Through my online therapy groups, blogs, newsletters, and Facebook and Twitter posts, I provide educational information and support to autistic women.
Other fabulous resources for autistic women coping with loneliness:
Autism Empowerment is a nonprofit and its website includes a list of books about girls and women with autism.
Please note that as a psychologist, I am licensed to provide services to autistic women only in the state of California. If you are looking for a mental health provider in another state, Psychology Today, Good Therapy, and Therapy Den have a directory of licensed professionals. You can filter your search by city, specialty, insurance, type of service (telehealth, group therapy, individual counseling, etc), and a whole host of other options. For women in countries outside the USA, you can try to search for verified mental health professionals through the International Therapist Directory, Good Therapy, or Psychology Today.
Online Autistic Women Support in California
I offer online autism group therapy for neurodiverse women in California. In our group, you will fit in. You will meet other neurodiverse women who can empathize and relate to the struggles you are having in your life. Many of my clients become friends outside of group. After attending group therapy at Open Doors, they report feeling significantly less lonely.
My autism group therapy curriculum is focused on three things:
- Learning and practicing social skills
- Reducing and coping with anxiety and sensory stimulation
- Improving self-esteem and self-advocacy
Ultimately, my goal is to empower women with autism to feel confident in social situations. This allows them to lead fulfilling lives. Unlike other autism programs, I want my group members to learn more than just social skills. I also want them to learn how to navigate stress and anxiety and be able to advocate for their well being as a woman on the autism spectrum.
Join Our Neurodiverse Women’s Group Today!
If you’re a neurodiverse woman looking for support in California, please reach out to my autism therapy clinic. I would love to meet with you to learn more about your struggles. Then, I can figure out how to best serve you. You don’t have to struggle with loneliness and isolation alone, find your tribe!
- Contact Open Doors Therapy in Palo Alto and schedule a free 30-minute phone consultation with Dr. Tasha Oswald.
- Like me on Facebook.
- Sign up to receive my autism newsletter.
Autism Therapy Services offered at Open Doors Therapy:
My autism therapy clinic in Palo Alto, CA serves teens and adults on the autism spectrum. We help high functioning individuals who identify as having Aspergers, high functioning autism, undiagnosed autism traits, etc. and their families. Due to COVID-19 we are providing all our autism therapy services online. We provide a variety of autism counseling services including individual counseling for autistic teens and adults, parent counseling, and group therapy. We offer several social skills groups for neurodiverse working professionals, college students with autistic traits, gifted youth & caregivers, autistic adults, women who identify as neurodiverse, a summer social skills college transition training program for youth going to college, teens & caregivers, and a mothers group. Reach out to my autism counseling office for more information on my services or to schedule a consultation.
About the Author
Dr. Tasha Oswald is a trained developmental and clinical psychologist. And, she 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.