Autism May Go Unrecognized in Girls, Requiring Different Approach

Children playing on playgroundGirls with autism may have better social skills than boys, masking other symptoms of the diagnosis, according to a study published in the journal Autism. Most research on autism is conducted on boys and men, which may make it more difficult to accurately diagnose girls.

Statistics show boys are significantly more likely than girls to be diagnosed with autism. The overall autism diagnosis rate is 1 in 68, with 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This study suggests some of the discrepancy might be due to differences in how the condition is presented in females and males.

Empathy and Social Rules in Girls with Autism

The study involved 68 adolescent boys and girls, some with and some without autism. In a laboratory setting, researchers pretended to sustain a finger injury from a file. The “injured” researcher said, “Ow, that hurt” and shook the hand to express pain.

After the feigned injury, two researchers observed video of the interaction to assess for empathetic behavior. Girls were more empathetic than boys, regardless of whether they had autism. They often asked how the researcher felt, while boys tended to seek a solution.

The researchers observed no substantive differences in displays of empathy between teenagers with and without autism, though those with autism may have more difficulty understanding why someone else feels a particular way.

Detecting Autism in Girls

Diagnostic criteria for autism often highlight a lack of appropriate social skills. The study’s authors argue that girls with autism may have difficulty understanding another person’s feelings just as much as boys. However, they are more likely to follow established social norms that govern appropriate reactions to people’s emotions. This can mask other signs of autism, making it more difficult to recognize and diagnose.

The study’s authors call for a different treatment approach and strategy for girls with autism, as their specific needs may be different compared to boys with autism.

April is Autism Acceptance Month, with autism organizations drawing attention to the needs of people with autism as well as the barriers they face. Many organizations are also celebrating Autism Awareness Month.

References:

  1. Data & statistics. (2016, July 11). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html
  2. Girls are better at masking autism than boys. (2017, April 1). Retrieved from http://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/news/2017/04/girls-are-better-at-masking-autism-than-boys

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  • Shilah

    Shilah

    April 13th, 2017 at 6:09 PM

    I also believe that autism is something that most people generally associate more with males than females so this wouldn’t necessarily be the first thing that would come to mind in terms of getting a diagnosis for a child,
    Whether it is right or it is wrong we all have at some point had some preconceived notions about what autism is and isn’t and I think that to be fair to all of those on any end of the spectrum we have to be willing to see the things that are actually there and not look for those things that aren’t just because we think that they should be.

  • Candi

    Candi

    April 14th, 2017 at 7:52 AM

    There should be a different and unique approach for any case.
    There will never be a one size fits all approach that will work for anything.

  • Tanner

    Tanner

    April 17th, 2017 at 12:22 PM

    My little sister is autistic and has since about 18 months old exhibited all of the classic signs. It was still difficult to get a diagnosis and I think that was in large part because she is a girl. I think that doctors are much more hesitant to assign that to a girl than they are to male patients.

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