In today’s medical practice, it is all too common for women to leave a hospital or doctor’s office misdiagnosed — or even worse, not diagnosed at all. Between the issues of medical gaslighting and women having to use social media platforms like TikTok to advocate for their symptoms, misdiagnosis has become a barrier to health for many women. And I’m not just saying that anecdotally.
According to a study from the University of Leeds, 50 percent of women are more likely to receive the wrong diagnosis after a heart attack. In another study published in Diagnosis, 33 percent of women are more likely to receive the wrong diagnosis after a stroke. It would be an understatement to say these statistics are jarring — especially when both of these studies involve life-threatening events. But it’s just as common to see misdiagnosis in neurological and developmental disorders, like autism.
In a study published in the National Library of Medicine, the male-to-female ratio of those diagnosed with autism is 3:1. “There appears to be a diagnostic gender bias, meaning that girls who meet criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are at disproportionate risk of not receiving a clinical diagnosis,” the study says.
This disparity is the reason why “The Bachelor” fan-favorite Demi Burnett recently spoke up in a TikTok video published late Wednesday night. “I know when you think about autism, you probably don’t think about me. But I am, in fact, autistic,” she said.
Earlier this year, the 27-year-old TV star shared her diagnosis on Instagram, which came after she opened up about “ongoing mental health struggles” and “emotional breakdowns”. In the TikTok, Burnett goes on to explain how underdiagnosed autism is women.
“Women with autism are very underdiagnosed — very misdiagnosed with other mood disorders or personality disorders. It’s a real big problem here. We are so behind that the majority of the women I know with autism were all diagnosed as adults.”
She’s not wrong. Per a study published in the National Library of Medicine, females showed a “significantly greater delay in referral to mental health services” for ASD and a “significantly higher age at diagnosis” compared to men.
According to Burnett, this could be because “autism presents differently in girls than it does in boys,” which the National Autistic Society agrees could be the reason. But they further explain on their website that misdiagnosis could also happen because “autistic females have characteristics that don’t fit with the ASD profile.” Plus, women and girls tend to be better at masking or camouflaging symptoms and teachers under-report autism traits in girls.
Burnett shared her experience with pathological demand avoidance, an autism profile more commonly acknowledged in the UK, that “describes those whose main characteristic is to avoid everyday demands and expectations to an extreme extent,” per the National Autistic Society.
“I don’t like demands being placed on me and I avoid them, not because I am being defiant, but because I am just trying to stop being anxious,” Burnett said in the video. She continues: “People with PDA profiles are a lot more sociable, maintain eye contact better. We can socialize better, but you will notice the socializing is very surface level. If you try to get deeper with me, [I will] probably turn into a lizard and be very awkward. I don’t know the rules of what to say when it comes down to more deeper conversation.”
Finishing her TikTok, Burnett closed out the almost-two-minute-long video with: “I hope that helped you learn something about autism today.”
If you think it’s possible you could have autism or would like to know more about the disorder in general, speak to a medical professional who can help you better assess your individual health needs and symptoms.