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As women, we often find ourselves in the midst of various life transitions, and one of the most significant yet least discussed among them is menopause. For non-autistic women this period can bring about a multitude of physical and emotional changes, but what about for those of us on the autism spectrum? Recent studies shed light on this intersection, highlighting unique challenges and considerations for autistic women navigating menopause.

Study one

A study conducted in the Netherlands and published in Autism (2022), explored the experiences of menopause among 70 women, both autistic and non-autistic. The majority of women were 40+ years old. The study excluded individuals with intellectual disabilities, insufficient fluency in Dutch, history of neurological conditions, and substance dependencies. Through diagnostic interviews and testing measurements for depression, anxiety, and agoraphobia, the researchers uncovered intriguing insights. The study found that autistic women reported higher levels of menopausal complaints, particularly in terms of depression and anxiety. They also experienced somatic complaints, where heightened focus on physical symptoms led to emotional distress, regardless of the presence of an actual medical condition. Interestingly, non-autistic menopausal women exhibited increased traits associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Study two

Another enlightening study, “When my autism broke,” was conducted anonymously via online focus groups and published in Autism (2020). It delved into the firsthand experiences of autistic women during menopause. The pilot study involved seven participants and highlighted the challenges faced by autistic women seeking diagnosis and navigating healthcare systems ill-equipped to address their unique needs. Participants reported difficulties in masking their autistic traits both at work and at home, leading to communication and relationship challenges. Sensory changes during menopause exacerbated overwhelm, affecting various aspects of daily life, from intimate relationships to food preferences and temperature regulation. Executive functioning decline became more pronounced, especially in work or study settings, accompanied by increased levels of depression, anxiety, and even panic attacks.

Strategies 

I’ve had to navigate this space as an AS person and want to share some strategies I’ve found helpful. Consider strategies that resonate with you and may support your own wellbeing during this transition.

  1. Build a support network: Seek out like-minded individuals to share experiences and exchange self-care strategies.
  2. Consider hormone replacement therapy (HRT): Research the implications of HRT for autistic women and consult with healthcare providers to determine its suitability.
  3. Explore natural therapies: Investigate herbal remedies and alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, tailored to manage menopausal symptoms. Find someone reputable and who has had great results treating menopausal symptoms for autistic women as our needs can differ based on our ability to absorb/not absorb particular vitamins and minerals.
  4. Diet and nutrition: Pay attention to how food choices may impact your menopausal symptoms and consider dietary adjustments with professional guidance. I noticed cutting out sugar makes a difference, and I rarely drink alcohol.
  5. Self-care: I can’t emphasise enough, the importance of identifying activities that you love to do, can do regularly, and that promote well-being. Some things I do are reading, watching movies, walking in nature, spending time with a friend or two and cooking.
  6. Your own individual needs around self-care. Tailor towards what works for you. I, for instance, have a need for solitude, being in quiet spaces and nature to regenerate.  Daily movement is really important for my mental health and general wellbeing. I walk, do yoga, functional fit, weight training, stretching, Pilates and Pickleball throughout the week. Movement and exercise help manage my anxiety and makes a big difference to my day.
  7. Honour your sensitivity needs. This could be advocating for yourself in the workplace and at home and removing yourself from social situations and environments where sound, crowds or technology can impede your ability to work or function effectively.

Navigating menopause as an autistic woman presents unique challenges, but it’s also an opportunity for growth and self-discovery. Despite the limitations and uncertainties surrounding this topic, drawing strength from the experiences of other autistic women during this transitional phase can provide solace. You’re not alone on this journey. Reach out to your spectrum friends for support and solidarity. I’m also available to help, support and guide.

References:

  • Groenman, A. P., Torenvliet, C., Radhoe, T. A., Agelink van Rentergem, J. A., & Geurts, H. M. (2022). Menstruation and menopause in autistic adults: Periods of importance? Autism, 26(6), 1563-1572. https://doi.org/10.1177/13623613211059721
  • Moseley, R. L., Druce, T., & Turner-Cobb, J. M. (2020). ‘When my autism broke’: A qualitative study spotlighting autistic voices on menopause. Autism24(6), 1423-1437.

Contact Sana Turnock via ADULTS AND AUTISM – Courage Unravelled

Images: There are 3 images of women. The first image is of a brown-haired woman with shoulder length hair. She is wearing a beige sleeveless singlet-style dress and black long sleeve top underneath. Her hands are touching piano keys. She is smiling. The second image is of a strawberry-blond haired woman with her back facing the camera. She is looking at her motorbike and/or body of water in front of her. She is wearing a short sleeve black top with red bandana around her neck. There is a tattoo on her left upper arm. Image three is of a woman with shortish black hair. Head and shoulder shot. Brown eyes, brown skin and neutral expression. She is wearing a jumper.