Females with autism are more likely to go undiagnosed and be vulnerable when it comes to relationships, research suggests.

Charity Scottish Autism claims that many women and girls with the condition are being missed and often go on to struggle with jobs and relationships as a result.

The research, which also shows that many girls underachieve at school despite being extremely capable because of the failure to diagnose, forms the basis of a new programme by the charity to help females who are on the autism spectrum.

Charlene Tait, development director at Scottish Autism, said: "Among the many issues around access to diagnosis of autism, especially in adults, it is increasingly recognised that females with the condition are being missed.

"We know from engaging and working with autistic girls and women that they have a great deal of potential but can also face many challenges.

"While female-specific research is limited, what there is indicates that autism has an impact across many aspects of their lives and can be detrimental to their overall quality of life.

"Girls who live on the spectrum, for example, may not have the same social networks as their non-autistic peers so they may miss out on the informal learning that goes on among friendship groups and can be more vulnerable in relationships and other situations."

The research revealed that - as well as underachieving - adolescent girls with autism can also be vulnerable to bullying and may develop health problems, including self-harm.

While women with the condition, even those in employment, who are married with children of their own, can struggle to keep a job or maintain successful relationships without proper diagnosis and support.

As a result, some incur mental health problems later in life.

One of the women involved in the study was Stella Macdonald, a 55-year-old who only discovered she had Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism, in 2001.

Ms Macdonald, whose daughter Louise was given also given a formal diagnosis several years beforehand, said her won diagnosis was a bolt out of the blue that "helped pave a path towards self-understanding and acceptance".

The mother-of-three said that because girls are more accommodating of people who are different than boys, it may have seemed to the outside world she was coping when in fact she suffered anxiety, emotional trauma and a constant feeling of failure.

She added: "Even an informal diagnosis, for many of us, is vital in building a better understanding of ourselves and who we are.

"We also need to focus on the barriers when it comes to socialising because, despite the many talents and gifts that an individual with autism has to offer, social barriers can prevent us from reaching our potential and making a great contribution to others and the world."

The Women and Girls Right Click Programme aims to help females of all ages who have autism to better manage some of the challenges they face.

It will provide information on diagnosis, education, employment, relationships and health and wellbeing.

Ms Tait added: "While we focus on helping all people with autism – male or female – through their whole life journey, the Women and Girls Right Click Programme is designed to help address some of the specific challenges faced by females living on the spectrum.

"Research shows the consequences of under-diagnosis and poor levels of understanding or awareness of the needs of this particular group can make them especially vulnerable.

"There are negative outcomes, identified in the limited research that has been done on females autism, which can have a hugely detrimental impact on their lives but this is by no means an inevitability.

"We believe that support through new programmes like this one can help females living with the condition develop and progress so they can get the most out of life."