Photo of Yani Hamdani

Prof. Yani Hamdani addresses need for university services for women with autism

Prof. Yani Hamdani is featured in a story in Ryerson University’s paper The Ryersonian about autism in women attending university:

“As of 2013, anyone who was given an Asperger syndrome diagnosis is considered to have Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) instead. Practitioners can no longer officially diagnose an individual with Asperger syndrome, the developmental disorder characterised by significant difficulties in social interaction as well as restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests.

Not all people like the term ASD or that it is positioned as a medical disorder. Some prefer the terms “autism” or “on the autism spectrum” instead. Autism is a developmental disorder of variable severity that is characterized by difficulty in social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behaviour. There are stigmas that get associated with the term which have created tensions and various approaches to providing proper support and health care.

According to Yani Hamdani, an assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at the University of Toronto and a Clinician-Scientist at the Azrieli Adult Neurodevelopmental Centre at CAMH, “there was a desire to reflect the wide range of ways that autism presents in individuals — it’s a spectrum. It was difficult to distinguish between some of the diagnostic criteria for similar and related diagnoses.”

Along with the potential for blurred lines as to where people sit on this spectrum, there are other factors that make it complicated to navigate exactly where you fit in.

Some of these complications differ depending on your gender. Girls are typically known to be better at hiding autistic traits and mimicking their peers to fit in, which is why they often — more so than boys — get overlooked, misdiagnosed or left with no diagnosis at all. More research is coming out which shows “masking” or “camouflaging” traits are not solely girl-specific though; some boys and men also camouflage and some don’t camouflage at all.

One of the reasons that girls are less likely to be diagnosed with autism than boys is because this ability to mask their traits well makes them appear neurotypical, so they slip under the diagnostic radar, so much so that some are left undiagnosed until adulthood.

“The most commonly reported male:female ratio of autism diagnosis is 4:1,” Hamdani said. “Researchers in Canada, U.K. and the U.S. are exploring if there is a female ‘version’ of autism, or if the characteristics for diagnosis are expressed differently in girls.”

Other research, like Hamdani’s own, explores if there are gender differences in the experiences of autism. “For example, girls may be socialized differently than boys and may be more adept at learning social skills in order to ‘fit in.’”

Continue reading the full article, Autism in females may be harder to spot and diagnose, but they still need adequate university services and support, by Sami Chasonoff (January 20, 2020).