Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) effects an estimated 1 in 68 children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for every girl who is diagnosed with ASD, more than four boys are diagnosed. This is partly because ASD can look very different in girls than it does for boys.
It seems that the typical traits associated with autism more modeled after the male presentation of symptoms. That may be due to the prevalence of males diagnosed or it may be because we are just beginning to learn about how Autism effects females.
Traits associated with autism show up later in girls than in boys. Therefore, girls get diagnosed at an older age than boys, if at all. The girls getting the earlier diagnosis typically have lower IQs and more behavior problems, so the issue is much more apparent. The sooner the diagnosis, the earlier the intervention, leading to a better prognosis. Since girls are not getting diagnosed until later, they are not getting access to the therapies and services needed.
Between the genders, girls are more socially motivated than boys. This is true for all children, not just those with an ASD diagnosis. Girls smile and engage socially more often than boys do. Even the things girls with autism obsess over are more common with neurotypical girls as well, like Disney movies and unicorns. Interestingly, an autism researcher at Yale University discovered that the brain of a girl with autism is more like that of a neurotypical boy than a boy with autism. Since the genders differ so greatly, clinicians are beginning to realize that we should be comparing girls to girls and boys to boys.
Since girls with autism don’t face as many social or emotional challenges, many girls are getting misdiagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Most girls first get passed off as socially less mature. They have difficulty developing and maintaining friendships. This becomes a greater problem by the time they reach middle and high school. For this reason, depression and/or anxiety usually is address first when autism may be causing the issues.
If your daughter is struggling to fit in socially and having difficulty making and keeping friends, it may be helpful to talk to your pediatrician or a behavioral health provider. Social skills groups can help them work through the challenges they face and learn the skills to help them fit in.
- Fewer girls are diagnosed with autism than boys.
- Girls tend to be diagnosed later, if at all.
- Girls’ autism often looks different than boys’.
- Unrecognized autism in girls can lead to social problems later on.