STRONGER TOGETHER: Beyond the Celebration -Diagnosis Challenges for Neurodivergent Women

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Last updated: 25/03/2024

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This Neurodiversity Celebration Week, Tanya reflects on the challenges faced by neurodivergent women and girls, whose experiences are often overlooked, misdiagnosed, or even dismissed.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

As our understanding of neurodiversity evolves, so does our appreciation for the unique ways our brains function. During Neurodiversity Celebration Week, from March 18 to 24, we celebrate the progress we have made as a community in changing the narrative around neurodiversity through increased acceptance, understanding, and education. However, we also recognise that there is still much work to be done.

There persists a significant gap in understanding, particularly affecting neurodivergent girls and women, whose experiences and obstacles often remain hidden. The diagnostic journey for these women can be fraught with challenges.

Societal biases and diagnostic criteria primarily derived from male presentations of neurodivergent traits contribute to the disparity in diagnosis rates. Neurodivergent females, particularly those with conditions such as autism or ADHD, may exhibit different behavioural patterns compared to males, leading to their symptoms being overlooked, misdiagnosed, or even dismissed.

Moreover, the prevalence of co-occurring conditions like anxiety or depression among neurodivergent females further complicates the diagnostic process, often masking underlying neurodevelopmental differences.

While there has been a notable increase in the identification of girls and women with autism or ADHD, they continue to be significantly underrepresented. Research indicates that by the age of 18, approximately 80% of autistic females remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. For these women and girls, the lack of support, the exhausting effort of masking to appear neurotypical, and missed opportunities to establish accommodating environments can result in severe mental health consequences.

Early and accurate diagnosis is paramount in facilitating appropriate interventions and support services, yet neurodivergent women and girls are frequently left without the resources they need to thrive. The consequences of misdiagnosis or lack of diagnosis can be profound, impacting academic, social, and emotional development.

To bridge this diagnostic gap and ensure equitable access to support and resources, concerted efforts are needed at multiple levels. Firstly, there is a pressing need for increased awareness and education surrounding neurodiversity, particularly in relation to the unique manifestations of neurodivergent traits in females. Healthcare professionals, educators, and policymakers must undergo comprehensive training to recognise and address the specific needs of neurodivergent women and girls.

Additionally, there is a critical need for research focusing on gender-specific presentations of neurodevelopmental conditions. By better understanding the nuances of how these conditions manifest in females, we can refine diagnostic criteria and improve the accuracy of assessments. Moreover, research can also inform the development of targeted interventions and support services tailored to the needs of neurodivergent women and girls.

Creating inclusive and supportive environments is essential for fostering the well-being and success of neurodivergent individuals. This involves not only providing access to appropriate healthcare and educational resources but also challenging societal norms and stereotypes that may contribute to the underrepresentation and marginalisation of neurodivergent females.

As we commemorate Neurodiversity Celebration Week, let us reaffirm our commitment to promoting acceptance, understanding, and inclusion for all neurodivergent individuals, regardless of gender. By recognising and addressing the diagnostic gap faced by neurodivergent women and girls, we can work towards a future where every individual receives the support and recognition they need to thrive. Together, let us strive towards a society that celebrates the diversity of human cognition and values the unique perspectives and contributions of all its members.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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