For decades, Gabriela Neuber, 42 years old, was labeled by family and friends as cold, selfish and arrogant. They also attributed to her a “strong personality”, which did not conform to social standards. At age 38, the psychologist discovered the reason for the “strangeness” of others: she met the criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
The initial diagnosis was made by the psychologist herself and then confirmed by the evaluation of specialists. While attending to a patient and reading his case aloud, Gabriela realized that the two had a lot in common.
“I was explaining the diagnosis – such as difficulty socializing, changing routines, understanding social rules. At one point, I found myself giving examples that were personal. At that moment, I felt a chill down my spine. I looked back on my life and recognized myself there,” she says.
Late diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder has become increasingly common. Patients with milder degrees tend to “mask”, an expression that refers to conscious or unconscious “masking” strategies to disguise behavior and act as expected.
In the case of women, masking is even more common. “From an early age they are encouraged not to speak in public and to fit into models, which is why the diagnosis is more difficult”, says psychologist André Torres, a researcher at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), specializing in autism.
According to him, although the disease does not show different symptoms between genders, girls end up “hiding” more because of the sexist context in which they are inserted.
ASD symptoms in women are commonly attributed to other psychological disorders, such as borderline, eating disorder, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), for example.
Gabriela says that, over the years, she learned the right moment to laugh at jokes, even without understanding why other people were finding it funny. “I developed social skills and read books on public speaking and making friends. It was where I learned socialization rules, which saved me in many situations, ”she says.
Disadvantages of late diagnosis
Late or inconclusive diagnosis hinders the development of patients and can generate a deep feeling of inadequacy. “The patient may feel guilty for treating depression and not being able to feel better, for example”, says Torres.
Gabriela was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia in adulthood, but she remembers noticing the first symptoms in childhood.
“I was born sulky. Looking at my childhood photos, you can see a child with suspicious eyes. As my sister smiled at the camera, I watched the people. You see fear and vigilance expressed all the time,” she says.
After closing the diagnosis, Gabriela turned completely to the universe of autism. Today, she sees only female patients with ASD and shares information about the disorder on social media through the profile Espectrando Consciente Spectrating Conscious. “I share reliable information on the subject. Without focusing on the downside,” she says.