Opinion: Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and Female Autism Are the Same In Some Cases

Sorry, Elaine Aron, but you could be wrong about this one.

Kristen Hovet
The Shadow
Published in
6 min readApr 24, 2019

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Women with high functioning autism often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed until well into adulthood. Some experts say this is due to their ability to mask symptoms and imitate others. Current diagnostic criteria do not fully capture the ways autism manifests in females. | Image: Larm Rmah

Elaine Aron coined the term “Highly Sensitive Person” or HSP to describe someone with a unique cluster of emotional, physical, and sensory sensitivities.

Her description has led many to wonder about the similarities between HSPs and those on the autism spectrum. Aron’s responses appear to consider autism as it is traditionally portrayed, but do not show awareness of autism as it presents in women (aka the female autism phenotype) or in those who present in less obvious ways.

In fact, the description of someone who is Highly Sensitive sounds a lot like the description of what was formerly known as “high functioning autism” or “Asperger syndrome”. For this reason, the spread of information about HSPs could be one of several factors responsible for delayed diagnosis.

If someone believes they are an HSP or believes their child is an HSC (Highly Sensitive Child), they will assume that certain difficulties or problematic behaviours are related to the HSP trait and will be less likely to search for other answers — namely, an autism diagnosis.

According to Aron, those who are Highly Sensitive are more aware of subtleties in their surroundings, are easily overwhelmed, and are usually more comfortable alone than in large groups or crowds.

The “Are You Highly Sensitive?” checklist on Aron’s website includes items such as:

  1. I am easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input.
  2. Other people’s moods affect me.
  3. I find myself needing to withdraw during busy days, into bed or into a darkened room or any place where I can have some privacy and relief from stimulation.
  4. I am particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine.
  5. I am easily overwhelmed by things like bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens close by.
  6. I am deeply moved by the arts or music.
  7. My nervous system sometimes feels so frazzled that I just have to go off by myself.
  8. I get rattled when I have a lot to do…

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