The first large-scale study into young women with autism – a condition usually viewed as a male syndrome – is being conducted, and is being led by a student with Asperger’s syndrome.
Hannah Belcher, a PhD student at Anglia Ruskin University, who was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome at the age of 23, is leading the study. The study, in effect an online screening tool, is being supervised by Dr Steven Stagg, senior lecturer in psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, and aims to survey 6,000 people in an attempt to understand the scale of how many women are still going undiagnosed.
Only one fifth of girls are diagnosed with their autism before the age of 11 compared with more than half of boys.
"The main aim of this research is to help quicken the identification of girls on the spectrum, offer them the support they need and help them achieve their full potential,” said Belcher. "Teachers, therapists and doctors see isolated problems in girls but are failing to see the bigger picture.
"I was diagnosed when I was 23, considerably late by male standards but unfortunately fairly average for females on the spectrum.
“And contrary to the Asperger's stereotype I do not like trains, I'm not particularly fussed about numbers, I can look people in the eye and I have never hacked into a computer! Instead I have good friends and enjoy music, films and photography."
Dr Stagg added: "It is certainly the case that autism is viewed as a male condition.
"However, not enough is known to say for certain whether autism is more prevalent in males or that females are simply better at copying others and therefore masking the social effects of autism.
"It's probably the case that a lot of women don't even consider that they might have autism, but instead think they have social problems. Many women who are diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder are actually likely to be autistic."