Autism in Women: A Personal Dilemma

By Amy Dickinson | May 5th, 2023

After her diagnosis, she wants her mother and sister to be tested

A middle-aged woman looking pensively to the side. Image by Fizkes. Signs of autism in women are different. A woman wants to share this with her sister and mother, who may be autistic. "Ask Amy" weighs in.

Learning that signs of autism in women are different, a woman wonders if she should share this information with her sister and mother, who she suspects could be autistic. See what advice columnist Amy Dickinson advises in “Ask Amy.”

Dear Amy:

I am a 45-year-old woman who was just diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

I never suspected I might be autistic until last year, when a friend discovered that she was autistic and sent me some articles about the non-stereotypical ways autism can present itself in women.

After going through the professional evaluation process and learning more about autism, I am almost certain that both my older sister and my 80-year-old mother are on the spectrum, too.

Should I tell them about autism in women, about my diagnosis and suspicions about them? If so, how? We are a family that never discusses emotions or meaningful experiences, but I am in almost daily text-message contact with both of them (about trivial things like cooking or sharing photos of our dogs).

I would be uncomfortable even bringing up my diagnosis because it is virtually taboo to discuss our inner lives within the family. In my teens and early 20s, my mother bluntly told me she didn’t want to discuss the hard parts of my life, and that has set the stage ever since. However, I think that if my family members are on the autism spectrum, the understanding that would come from learning this information could be life-changing for them in important and positive ways.

On the other hand, would it be too upsetting for my aging mother, who despite a lifetime of trauma has always eschewed introspection and therapy, to be confronted with this possibility at her age? Please help!

– Nervous & Uncertain

Dear Nervous:

Surely this new awareness into the workings of your own brain would bring you insight into the dynamic within your family. It seems to me that if your mother is also on the autism spectrum, this might at least partially explain her discomfort with diving into more emotional matters. Communication is a common challenge for those on the spectrum.

The downside to experiencing an exciting epiphany as an adult is the tendency to press your own experience – and the positive insight that flows from it – onto others with an urgent enthusiasm that can actually deter people from following your lead. (This is also a common occurrence with people who enter therapy.)

You want for your family members to experience the same insight as you’ve had, but you should be aware that a diagnosis for them also serves your purposes, because it confirms your theories and suspicions about them.

You should share your insight with your mother and sister the way your friend did with you, using “I statements,” and describing your own experience. Ask them if they are interested in receiving information about the evaluation process, and then leave the rest up to them.

Want to get even more life tips from Amy? Read more of her advice columns here!

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart – ranging from sharing information like questions of autism in women diagnoses to dark family secrets and DNA surprises. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

©2023 by Amy Dickinson

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