Study Finds Girls Diagnosed with Asperger’s Later Than Boys

girl with puppy

Early autism interventions can make life easier for children with autism and their families, and may even help children develop skills they otherwise might never gain. One in 68 children experiences an autism spectrum condition, but the rate is just one in 189 girls as compared to one in 42 boys. Consequently, many parents and doctors approach autism as a boys’ condition.

This can have damaging implications for girls on the spectrum, as a new study on diagnosis timing confirms. According to the study, girls with Asperger’s, a high-functioning form of autism, are diagnosed an average of a half-year later than boys.

Is Autism Under-Diagnosed in Girls?

Researchers compared data from the Interactive Autism Network registry on nearly 10,000 children with autism. They found that boys were diagnosed with Asperger’s at an average age of 7.1 years, compared to an average age of 7.6 for girls. There was no difference in age of diagnosis for autism, possibly because the symptoms of autism are more obvious.

Why Autism Goes Unnoticed in Girls

In addition to notions that autism is primarily a boys’ issue, subtle differences in behavior and symptoms may also delay diagnosis in girls. Researchers compared symptoms in about 5,100 children. They found that boys often engaged in obvious signs of autism, such as repetitive behaviors and highly restricted interests. Girls’ symptoms were more subtle. Many girls exhibited problems with social skills, such as difficulties recognizing and understanding social cues.

Some girls with Asperger’s may appear to “get” social norms, but their understanding is superficial. They might, for example, smile and nod in response to their parents, but only because they’ve learned this is the “right” thing to do. Thus, parents of girls with Asperger’s may not realize their children are struggling.

The Importance of Early Diagnosis

Autism rates are rising, but with this movement has come an improvement in treatment options. Social skills training, which helps children recognize, understand, and respond to social cues, is highly beneficial to children with Asperger’s. Early social interventions can help children navigate the world around them and increase the likelihood that they’ll have positive interactions with peers. A child who is able to make friends in preschool has a strong incentive to keep working on social skills. Conversely, a child whose treatment is delayed—and who therefore struggles more with social skills—may become more withdrawn.

References:

  1. Autism prevalence. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/prevalence
  2. Esposito, L. (2015, April 28). Girls get autism diagnosis later than boys. Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2015/04/28/girls-get-autism-diagnosis-later-than-boys

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  • Greta

    Greta

    May 4th, 2015 at 10:40 AM

    Thank you so much for this clear and informative piece. I too have usually thought about autism being a male issue, one that you see more often in boys than girls, so it is good to know that there is research being done in the ways that this can differ in females.

  • catheryn

    catheryn

    May 6th, 2015 at 3:46 AM

    all of us struggle with some social issues from time to time in life. it could be hard to tell the difference.

  • matt

    matt

    May 11th, 2015 at 4:26 PM

    I would suspect that this is fairly typical, especially with those things that are generally more often than not associated with males, or it is something that we perceive to only be found among boys instead of girls.

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