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Understanding and Supporting Late-Discovered Autistic Mothers

Updated: Apr 7

 Understanding and Supporting Late-Diagnosed/ Self-Realised Autistic Mothers


Motherhood is a journey filled with love, joy, and also challenges. For some women, the path to understanding themselves as autistic only begins after they become mothers. The realization may come as a surprise, by observing the behaviors of their own neurodivergent children it may prompt a personal enquiry or, it may be that the demands and changes that being a new parent brings can, without the right support lead to autistic burnout, which unfortunately can be debilitating. This late diagnosis or self realisation can be a pivotal moment in their lives, shedding light on why they may have always felt like they didn't quite fit in or why struggled with certain aspects of everyday life.


There are many women who are late realised as autistic and perhaps many more who are unaware they are neurodivergent, According to the centre for Disease Control those raised as males are four times more likely than those raised as females to receive a diagnosis, yet as research progresses there is no evidence to be found to suggest that there is any difference between biological sex and the probability of autism. It is believed that some autistic traits such as being introverted, being organised and being focused academically are perceived as feminine traits and thus is one explanation why boys are diagnosed earlier, of course such narrow assumptions are rubbish! No autistic person is the same, it is also time we stopped separating the idea of typical behaviours being consigned to gender. The issue of those raised as female being continually missed in neurodivergent diagnosis is an ongoing one and therefore it is imperative we continue to have discussions around this subject.


It is important that all neurodivergent mothers (and in fact all parents) recieve support, this article focuses on the group of late diagnosed autistic women, not to marginalise any group, simply to raise awareness of an area that deserves more attention.


It's essential to recognize the unique support needs of late realised autistic mothers, as their experiences and challenges can differ from those diagnosed earlier in life, it can be confusing to find symptoms dramatically increase particularly if the mother has never even suspected she may be autistic. Autistic people often mask and for an adult who has been unaware they are neurodivergent, this masking behaviour may so subconscious that it can be a difficult and delicate process to begin the unmasking journey.

Often, the signs of autism in postpartum women are misunderstood or mistaken for other conditions, such as postnatal depression. The intersection of both can further complicate the situation, making it crucial for health professionals to be aware of this possibility and approach it with sensitivity and understanding.


One common challenge faced by autistic mothers is sensory overload. The demands of motherhood can expose them to various sensory stimuli that can be overwhelming, leading to stress and anxiety.


Sleep deprivation is another significant issue that affects many parents but for autistic mothers, the impact can be even more pronounced. Difficulties with sleep routines and sensory sensitivities can exacerbate sleep problems, leading to a cycle of exhaustion and fatigue. Establishing a consistent nighttime routine and creating a soothing sleep environment can help address these issues and promote better sleep hygiene for autistic mothers. Providing respite and being considerate of the extra rest needed without judgment can be extremely helpful.


Changes in routine and lack of predictability can also be sources of stress for autistic mothers. The unpredictability of motherhood, combined with the need to adapt to the ever-changing needs of children, can be overwhelming for individuals who thrive on structure and routine. Finding ways to incorporate predictability and consistency into daily life can help alleviate some of the anxiety and uncertainty that can come with these constant changes.


Recognizing the unique challenges faced by late-diagnosed/realised autistic mothers is the first step towards providing them with the support and understanding they need. Increasing awareness among health professionals, especially in the context of motherhood, is crucial for early detection in order to provide support and prevent autistic burnout, poor physical and poor mental health. By understanding the intersection of being autistic and motherhood, we can better support these women in their journey of self-discovery and parenting.


In addition to raising awareness, it's important to consider how we can best support autistic mothers in practical ways. Providing access to autism-informed parenting resources and support groups can offer a sense of community and understanding for these women. Tailoring parenting strategies to accommodate the unique needs of autistic mothers can help empower them to navigate the challenges of raising children while also taking care of themselves.


Furthermore, we can apply the same principles of support and understanding to mothers who may be late-diagnosed/discovered with other neurodivergent conditions, such as ADHD and OCD. Like autism, these conditions can present unique challenges when combined with the demands of motherhood. Understanding the nuanced ways in which ADHD or OCD can manifest in mothers and providing tailored support and resources can make a significant difference in their well-being and parenting journey.


It's also important to consider the role of hormones in the experiences of autistic mothers. The hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and the postpartum period can have a profound impact on mental health and well-being. For autistic mothers, these hormonal shifts can interact with sensory sensitivities and emotional regulation difficulties, leading to increased vulnerability to stress and anxiety. Supporting these women through these transitions with sensitivity and understanding is essential for promoting their overall mental and emotional well-being.


Autistic women can make brilliant mothers, their high empathy and ability to attune with their offspring can provide a strong attachment and bond. Furthermore, autistic women are often intelligent and creative, they are often driven by a strong sense of justice and can make great advocates for their children. It is crucial that autistic mothers are supported in the areas they may find difficult, whilst at the same time celebrating the uniqueness of each and acknowledging that there are many autistic traits that can indeed make for a great parent.

It is important to acknowledge that a mother who is autistic may have specific support needs but also imperative that we do not do so in an ableist manner, all women should be supported and nurtured in pregnancy and beyond and it is an unfair assumption that autistic mothers will struggle more or less than a neurotypical mother; what is essential is that we aim to be inclusive in regard to the support that is available without ignoring or making assumptions about any group and to do so we need to keep having these discussions and giving autistic mothers a safe space to share what they want and need.


In conclusion, recognising and supporting the needs of late-diagnosed/discovered autistic mothers is essential for promoting their well-being and empowering them in their parenting journey. By increasing awareness among health professionals, providing tailored support and resources, and understanding the unique challenges they face, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for these women. Recognising that many women fail to ask for support for fear of being judged it is important we recognise the role masking plays for autistic women. We need to be open to the idea that all women at times need support, the support given may vary in nature depending on the needs of each mother; we hear it takes a village to raise a child, but often women may find themselves in those early days of parenthood wondering where the heck this so-called village is. Through empathy, education, and advocacy, we can ensure that all mothers, regardless of their neurotype, feel seen, understood, and supported in their role as caregivers.

About me: I am a late realised autistic woman, I have been a practicing counsellor since 2016, I am passionate about raising awareness about neurodiversity and mental health. I offer individual therapy sessions both in person and online.


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