Secretly On The Spectrum


Jaimee Smith

“Secretly on the Spectrum” shines a light on women with ASD and ADHD. Many women get misdiagnosed and go years thinking they are just anxious or moody.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and ADHD are two very common disorders that people of all ages deal with. Most people have a family member or a friend that deals with one of these disorders. People on the spectrum for either of these disorders might have trouble in social situations, attention difficulties, and sensory issues.  

ASD and ADHD are found in both men and women, though more women go undiagnosed. Sari Solden says in her article, “ADHD in Women Symptoms Checklist”, “ADHD in women often goes undiagnosed. Too many women grew up being called lazy, selfish, spacey, or dumb because their symptoms were ignored or disregarded.” 

“How ADHD and Autism work in men and women I know is different, as in men it seems to be more noticeable on the outside whereas in women it is generally internalized from my experience,” said senior, Rachel Van Hook.  

Women on the spectrum are known for camouflaging their symptoms, especially women who are considered high functioning. Both men and women can use camouflaging to hide their disorder, but it is more common for women to do it. This could be one of the main reasons women are “secretly on the spectrum.”

Forms of camouflaging can include mimicking social behaviors, preparing things to say ahead of time to use in conversation with someone, and forcing eye contact. People on the spectrum tend to do these things to seem “normal” to society. 

Getting an official diagnosis can be a struggle for some women. ASD and ADHD come with a stigma, just like many other disorders. When thinking about ADHD, many people think about a little boy who is constantly hyper but there’s so much more to the disorder than just that. There’s also an assumption that people who have ASD aren’t functioning members of society, which simply isn’t true. 

“I feel bad when I hear about women getting misdiagnosed/undiagnosed because doctors assume [some women] don’t have ASD when they compare the patient’s symptoms to a man’s,” said junior Alexandra Wortman. 

Doctors sometimes misdiagnosed ASD and ADHD with anxiety, mood disorders, depression, and other common mental disorders. Solden writes, “According to the 5th Edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, ADHD symptoms may fall into three subtypes: predominantly hyperactive, predominantly inattentive, and combined type.” Inattentive ADHD is more commonly found in women than in men and is still misunderstood by doctors and other medical professionals. 

People who have ASD and ADHD might have different struggles, but they still deserve to be treated with respect. Having one or both of these disorders does not necessarily mean someone can’t function in society. 

Women are more likely to get misdiagnosed compared to men because there are other disorders that medical professionals diagnose women with first before considering them being on the spectrum. Some doctors see mood swings and high levels of anxiety as a mood disorder or even depression but, in reality, a woman could have untreated ASD or ADHD. 

When ASD and ADHD go undiagnosed, it can lead to higher levels of anxiety and more difficulties in social situations. When these disorders are treated properly, people on these spectrums have coping mechanisms they can use to overcome their difficulties. A few examples of coping mechanisms include: using a fidget toy, exercising, and listening to music.  

“I think people should treat [those who have ASD and ADHD] like normal human beings. Don’t baby talk to them or treat them like a child. Be patient and if you think they need help, just ask,” said senior Bailee Hall.