Girls are less likely to get diagnosed with autism because the symptoms do not present the same way they do in boys. It is also much less common in girls to begin with. Recognizing the symptoms of autism is important for doctors and parents alike. Girls with autism need to have support systems available in order to thrive.
It is estimated that one in 59 children is diagnosed with autism. Boys are four times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with the condition. Autistic symptoms in girls aren’t just different. Girls are also more likely to hide their symptoms in order to fit in.
Autism is a developmental condition that affects social interaction. No two individuals will have the same type of symptoms. That is why the term autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is more commonly used. Many people with autism are high functioning.
This means that a person does not need additional support and does not have trouble with learning. Autistic people who are high functioning typically have average intelligence and can navigate social situations fairly well.
Although autism symptoms vary from person to person, there are some common ones that help diagnosis. These include avoiding eye contact, difficulty with empathy, and trouble following directions. Autistic individuals also tend to be very focused on repeating actions or words and following a set routine.
For example, an autistic child might be extremely attached to a particular toy. A change in schedule might be very troubling to them. These symptoms tend to develop early on. Other autism red flags don’t appear until later in a child’s development.
There are social stereotypes about male versus female behavior that can delay, or even prevent, a diagnosis of autism for a girl. Boys are traditionally viewed as aggressive and outgoing. Girls are traditionally thought of as happy to spend time playing alone.
They are assumed to be naturally quieter. Yet being a quiet loner can be a sign of autism, too. It is just easier to detect symptoms like a lack of impulse control instead of a symptom that manifests as something close to shyness.
Another difficulty in diagnosing autism in girls comes with how girls manage their autism. A girl who has autism might put effort into learning socially acceptable behaviors in order to appear “normal.” Similarly, she might also be very focused on making friends. Surprisingly enough, a girl with autism is more likely to be better at making and keeping friends than a boy with autism.
That makes autism even harder to detect given the aforementioned symptoms, and also stereotypes, of difficulty with social interaction. It is for these reasons that an autistic girl probably won’t be diagnosed until she is a teenager, or perhaps even later. Being quiet and not understanding social rules is easier to hide in childhood.
Unfortunately, struggling with social cues might make an autistic child a target of bullying or abuse by their peers. Educating parents and teachers gives them the tools to help other children understand what autism is and therefore eliminate bullying. A child with autism just might have different needs, and that’s okay.
Autism is commonly misdiagnosed as a mental health concern. This is because mental health issues like anxiety and depression can often share symptoms with autism, especially since navigating life with autism might be stressful for some individuals.
A girl with autism is more likely to internalize that stress and not be as willing to reach out for help. A boy with autism, by contrast, is more likely to react outwardly, perhaps even angrily. Again, this makes autism much more obvious in a male patient rather than a female one.
Screening tests and case studies are also very limited in how they use female patients, if they even use them at all. Most of the professionally developed tests use men as their baseline example. Doctors and other people in the medical field should put more research into understanding how autism manifests in girls in order to improve treatment.
Parents who think their child is autistic should talk to their doctor. A doctor is usually able to pick up on early signs of autism up until the child is two years old. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a helpful list of developmental milestones that parents and their doctors can check against. However, some cases do not always fit neatly into a checklist.
Parents who are concerned about an older child may need to get a referral for an ASD screening. The screening will check the child’s speech patterns, learning style, and behaviors. Depending on the results, the doctor may recommend an appointment with a medical professional who specializes in working with people with autism.
Ultimately, autism may in fact be less common in girls, although this could also be because they are not diagnosed with the condition at the same rate as boys are. This is because girls with autism do not always display the same symptoms. When they do, they can be misunderstood as a mental health concern.
Autistic girls might not show the same neat stereotype of what people think an autistic person is. They are therefore more likely to get diagnosed later in life, if at all. It is important for adults to know milestones for child development. These milestones make it easier for a girl with autism to receive an earlier diagnosis and better support as a result.