THEY are the mother and daughter with more in common than most.

When Clare Canning realised her two children were very different she started to look at herself as well.

Hattie, eight, was struggling with things that many people wouldn’t even notice – things that Clare had struggled with throughout her life.

But it took years of tests and research to discover that they are both autistic.

And when both Hattie and her mum were officially diagnosed with the condition within months of each other things started to fall into place.

Clare, 38, a researcher from Totton, said she started to notice the difference between her two daughters, Hattie and Mae.

She said: “The more I learnt about Hattie’s behaviour the more it rang bells. Things like not being able to bear the feeling of socks on my feet, the feeling of seams or hypersensitivity to noise would leave me feeling anxious and stressed.”

And Hattie’s reactions could be extreme – throwing tantrums when faced with busy places or finding the intense environment of school “really difficult”.

But although health services and the general public are becoming more and more aware of autism in boys, Clare says there’s still work to do in recognising symptoms in girls.

She says that autism in women and girls often goes undetected, because women are expected to fit in, hiding their true feelings so they don’t upset others or stand out from the crowd.

Clare said: “A large number of girls are undiagnosed. Girls are very different in the way they present with autism.

"They can appear a lot more motivated to fit in so they mask and hide their difficulties.

"I have learnt to mask the challenges I’ve had. Lots of women can appear very capable so it’s another barrier as we have had no support.

"We have had to learn to find different ways of coping. “

But the pressure of having to fit in and comply with social expectations meant that for Clare her whole sense of self was compromised.

And as a woman with autism she has had to observe others and “intellectualise” how to react in social situations.

“It feels like I’ve been living my life in a different perspective.

"I’ve spent so much of my life pretending to be someone else.

"It erodes any sense of self worth and self esteem.

"I was diagnosed with personality disorder when I was 22 – that’s now been retracted.”

She added: “People talk about losing a sense of who they are or having problems with self esteem.

"It’s very tiring – you are always having to use intellectual ways of understanding and how people respond.”

Now Clare is calling for greater understanding of women with autism. And she says there are some myths to dispel around the condition

For her the stereotype of people on the autistic disorder spectrum lacking in empathy is “the polar opposite.”

She said: “I would say me and Hattie get more angry and feel things quite strongly.

"We often stereotype autism as people who don’t have any emotions – but it’s the polar opposite.

"I’m hyper empathic – I can feel all the things other people are feeling and I haven’t found a way to not take on those feelings

“I can’t watch the news because I can’t get rid of those emotions. Everyone feels these things to a degree but it’s quite intense.

"I can hear the electricity in the walls when I’m lying in bed at night.”

Now that she has been diagnosed she says she feels “validated”, not only for herself but in pushing for a diagnosis with her daughter.

But it hasn’t been an easy ride.

She said: “It’s been a really long journey. They say lots of people are on the spectrum.

"But autistic people find that offensive – it’s a neurological difference.

"I saw three different GPs before I was assessed. What I would like to change is for it to be recognised and easier to get support.

“Because it’s a hidden disability we have had people tut at us because we use the disabled toilet – but we just can’t stand the noise of the hand dryers.

"We have to pick places to go very carefully. It’s the visual and audio stimulation that is too much.

"Sometimes it looks like Hattie’s having a tantrum like a toddler and the looks we get – it’s really hard not to care about it.”

Clare says she hopes Hattie’s diagnosis will mean her daughter won’t have to go through the same things she did – the intense anxiety of trying to fit in – and the difficulty in making friends.

But she says finally understanding her own and her daughter’s issues has been “overwhelming” and “important.”

She said: “It’s really hard to get a diagnosis for a child – as a grown woman it’s almost impossible. It feels really important and highly validating.”

Now Clare is about to embark on research that she hopes will help women living with the condition.

Her research will try to find a mindful intervention for self-harm as well as exploring connections between self-injury and female autism.