I’m a woman with clinically diagnosed autism; here are subtle signs your girlfriend could be autistic.
Not every autistic woman has meltdowns, shutdowns or impaired executive functioning. Not every autistic woman avoids eye contact.
As a Level 1 Autist, my presentation of this neurotype is, for the most part, non-stereotypical when I’m around other people.
However, my presentation, as well as the presentation of many other autistic women, has all sorts of other features that could easily be detected by anyone who’s familiar with more subtle traits of ASD.
We don’t all flap our hands or stare at ceiling fans. Nevertheless, many signs of ASD can still be observable.
Signs Your Girlfriend Might Be on the Autism Spectrum
Intense Eye Contact
What many people don’t realize is that some Autistics make too much eye contact or tend to have an intense gaze.
“She wouldn’t necessarily lack eye contact like is commonly believed — she may have unusual eye contact of varying types,” says Dom Silvera, a woman diagnosed with autism at 44.
“She might make too much eye contact. This might not bother him — as she’s his girlfriend, but have other people commented on it?”
What’s often really going on is that she’s not sure how to “do” eye contact and may be over-thinking it, trying too hard to “get it right.”
When it’s time to explain things, she often repeats the narrative beyond what would be considered sufficient for the listener to understand.
Neurotypical (NT) people may do this, but in autism, it’s far more noticeable.
She may give the excuse that people usually don’t understand shorter explanations, so she pre-emptively repeats the verbiage in the same dump.
Autistic women may become adept at this in an attempt to be better understood after years of feeling misunderstood.
Because the autistic mind is tuned so well to detail, this, too, can lead to over-explaining.
“I think that for some, this could be related to some social anxiety and some of the core differences with autism,” says Dr. Jessica Myszak, licensed psychologist, and director of The Help and Healing Center, whose practice is mostly autism assessment for adults.
“When they are speaking with a person, most people get a lot of nonverbal information back to clue them into whether the person is interested and whether they are understanding.
“However, this relies on interpreting another person’s minimal social cues while also talking about or explaining something, which is a pretty complicated process.
“If an Autist is not picking up on these subtleties, they aren’t getting those ‘yeah, the person gets it’ vibes, so they may feel the need to ‘hammer in’ a point by repeating it.
“Anxiety further diminishes a person’s ability to accurately interpret a person’s limited social cues, so the over-explaining is really a product of a person’s difficulty reading subtle social cues while also engaging in a cognitive-heavy task.”
Brings in Irrelevant Details
When talking, especially explaining something, she’ll pull in details that have no relevance. She’ll seem to go off on a tangent, but will return to the main topic.
This is called circumstantial speech – because it makes them feel that no stone went unturned when explaining something.
We Autists want to make sure everything is precise and thorough. This reflects in our speech patterns.
If your girlfriend often brings little details up as she explains, that make you think, “What the devil does that have to do with anything?” this could indicate a neurodivergent mind.
When your girlfriend talks, especially an explanation, does she have a tendency to repeat the last line?
Though neurotypicals may do this, Autists do it far more often – often enough to be noticeable. It may come across as a charming quirk (and I myself do it), but it’s a well-known trait of Autism Spectrum.
After making a statement, does she repeat its last few words – a few times? This is echolalia.
An example would be, “I don’t think we should hike on that trail. It looks too remote. Too remote. Too remote.”
She may also repeat phrases or words that someone else just spoke, including on TV, for seemingly no reason.
Can Hear Things Others Can’t
An NT with good hearing will hear things that others can’t, but this ability is more prevalent among Autistics and may be exaggerated.
For instance, she may say she hears women nearby brushing their hair or hears conversations across the room as loudly as the one in front of herself.
Likes to Sniff Things
This goes beyond flowers and scented candles. She sniffs her hands, skin, hair, plant leaves, food, the laundry detergent before every load, and, just in general, things that people normally don’t put their nose to.
Says things that others think are rude or inappropriate, but when this is brought to her attention, she genuinely acts surprised or perplexed that anything was offensive – because she really is surprised or perplexed.
Strange Interests — and Loves to Talk About Them
Does your girlfriend suddenly want to talk on and on about her latest odd interest or one she’s had since childhood?
Or maybe she seems obsessed with a more popular topic?
Does she manage to work the topic into nearly every conversation she has with anybody?
Or perhaps she doesn’t talk much about her “obsession,” but is clearly preoccupied with it, such as houseplants.
She spends a ton of time on multiple FB accounts dedicated to houseplants. She also spends much time discussing plants in online forums. There are plants everywhere in her home.
She’s always transplanting one, polishing the leaves, snipping stems, growing new plants from clippings, taking pictures of them, talks to them.
“Weird” About Things
• Expresses a lot of dis-ease about visitors sitting in her furniture.
“This could be a sign of that person being hypersensitive to sensory sensations, which can be a component of autism,” says Dr. Myszak.
“Many of the autistic teenagers I’ve worked with have shared how much they hate when other people enter their room, and especially, sit on their bed.
“I think that having a person in your space leaves little traces of that person behind, such as their scent on the chair.
“In a way, they are letting someone into their safe space, and they want that person to make a minimal impact.”
• Wears rings for the purpose of fiddling with them or has a “chew” necklace.
• Wears earplugs when in restaurants, large stores, around young kids, near someone who’s using a whistle or a vacuum cleaner, etc.
• Must read emails or texts, that she intends on sending, several times before sending.
• Can spend an hour listening to the same four-minute song over and over.
• Talks to preschool kids with an adult voice.
• Has little interest in sex — though this is not common.
• Refuses to interact with or hold babies.
• “If they are very particular about the food they eat,” begins Justine Martin, 31, diagnosed with autism in adulthood; founder/owner of Guilty Pleasures Bakeshop, a luxury bakery in Northern Ontario.
She continues, “Not just ‘picky’ but disliking groups of things based on texture, preferring to eat the same things frequently, being diligent to always stock specific foods in their house/traveling with specific foods, combining strange foods together often, not being open to changes in food (for example, if I’m expecting to order sushi for dinner and my favorite restaurant ends up being closed, I no longer want to eat at all).”
• Eats the food on her plate one type at a time.
• Can’t stand when different foods on her plate touch each other.
• Refuses to wear clothes with tags.
• Wears the same clothes all the time; puts heavy emphasis on comfort over fashion.
• Doesn’t like being spontaneous. Insists on plans and predictable routines. Unexpected changes in plans leave her edgy, upset or argumentative.
“She might seem disproportionately upset when a seemingly inconsequential change is made to their itinerary or schedule, or if he insists on going to a different place than usual,” says Dom.
• Seems drained or tired after social events or parties. Has made comments like, “Being around people taxes me.”
• Often tries to get out of social events.
• Has no actual friends. She may cite reasons such as, “People are boring.”
• Struggles with small-talk and either abruptly ends it or changes the topic to one of her odd interests or some other topic that’s not quite fitting for the context.
• Is superb at talking on and on about her interests or in a business related interaction, but struggles with more common, humanizing conversation.
• Says “bright” lights bother her when nobody else is bothered.
• Doesn’t show distress when watching tragic news on TV.
• Says a show was really funny but you never saw her smile during it.
• Says the hum of the refrigerator keeps her up all night while you can barely, if at all, hear it.
• Says certain fabrics are intolerable.
• Doesn’t like to talk about her feelings.
• “She might plan things, even just short outings, down to the last tiny detail,” says Dom.
• “She might seem uninterested in him at times or even cold, but this could be more to do with being preoccupied with her thoughts or being uncertain about how to react, and deep in thought about how to,” says Dom.
• “If the boyfriend is noticing anxiety and overstimulation in busy places in his girlfriend,” says Jessica Medina, 30, who was diagnosed with autism at 29.
• “If they seem to have very strong, possibly ‘inappropriate’ reactions (immediate need to take off layers, anger, irritability, panic, etc.) to temperatures, seemingly out of nowhere, without regard for social setting,” says Justine.
• When planning on driving to an appointment at a place she’s never been to, she must make a drive out there beforehand to check it out.
If you’re simply wondering if your girlfriend is autistic, then there’s a good chance that she is.
The above signs are not complete as far as subtle signs of autism, nor are they to be regarded as diagnostic. They are only checkpoints to be used as guidance.
Also, no autistic woman (or man) presents with every single ASD trait.
For instance, some are perfectly okay in loud environments, while others loathe them. Some have super-strict morning rituals while others are more flexible.
If you really believe your girlfriend is autistic, focus on the strengths that Autism Spectrum Disorder brings to a relationship!
- For example, autistic people tend to be far more straightforward and truthful than are neurotypicals.
- They don’t like to play mind games or engage in BS talk.
- They’re direct and won’t leave you guessing.
- They are loyal to those they love and eager to please them.
- They may be the only one in your hiking group who can remember how to get back to the trailhead!
Maverick Dom Silvera is an autistic single parent and autism professional who writes at autismabilities.co.uk/spectrum/autismreviews reviewing and critiquing misunderstandings about autism that relentlessly pervade everyday life via books, films, documentaries, programs, articles, documents, training courses, ideas, beliefs, concepts and attitudes.
Owner of Guilty Pleasures Bakeshop, Justine Martin is a Food Network champion and serial cake competitor. In 2020, she was named Cake Artist of the Year by the Ontario Wedding Awards and was a finalist for Rising Star of Year at the American Cake Awards. Follow her on Instagram.
Dr. Jessica Myszak is a psychologist who specializes in autism assessment for both children and adults. She sees clients in-person in the Chicago area and over telehealth in 31 states and counting! Learn more about her practice at helpandhealingcenter.com.
Jessica Medina is a licensed marriage and family therapist (#129383) who specializes in “geek therapy” and making therapy fun, engaging and a safe place to comfortably explore emotions. Her superpower is making geek and pop culture (e.g., Marvel, Disney, videogames) therapeutic. TikTok/Instagram: @happylilbrains
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical and fitness topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. In 2022 she received a diagnosis of Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Top image: Shutterstock/puhhha