The prevalence of autism among girls is significantly lower than that among boys, according to a new study. There is also a huge difference in the expression of autism in girls versus autism in boys. Many girls are misdiagnosed and undiagnosed, which prevents them from getting the support they need.
Autism in girls – Facts
- Approximately one in 68 U.S. children have autism; however, new research suggests the current diagnosis excludes girls, making the autism spectrum more widespread.
- Preliminary neuroimaging and behavioural findings suggest that autism manifests differently in girls. In particular, autistic females tend to be closer to males in terms of social skills than typical autistic girls or boys.
- Diagnosing autism in girls can be more difficult for a variety of reasons, including criteria developed specifically for boys and overlapping criteria such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or anorexia.
- Diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a developmental condition characterized by social and communication difficulties and repetitive and inflexible behaviour patterns, are based almost entirely on data from studies of boys.
Belfry and other researchers believe that many girls and adult women may not meet these criteria because their symptoms look different. Historically, the disease has been estimated to affect one in 68 children in the United States and is thought to be at least four times more common in boys than in girls.
Experts also believe that girls with autism are, on average, more severely affected and have more severe symptoms, such as intellectual disabilities. Recent research suggests that both of these ideas may be wrong.
Because autism can have different symptoms in women, many girls may be diagnosed late. Others may be underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or even anorexia, as some researchers believe.
As scientists study how the disorder occurs in girls, they are encountering discoveries that may change not only how they think about autism, but also about sexuality and how it affects many aspects of biological and social development. They also began to find ways to meet the unique needs of girls and women in a variety of areas.
Autism in girls versus autism in boys
In recent years, researchers have explored several explanations for the skewed gender ratio in autism. In the process, they explored social and personal factors that might help women mask or compensate for autism spectrum symptoms better than men, as well as biological factors that might prevent the condition from developing.
Disease diagnostic methods; A 2012 study by cognitive neuroscientist Francesca Happe at King’s College London and colleagues compared the prevalence of autistic traits with formal diagnoses in a sample of more than 15,000 twin pairs. They found that if boys and girls had similar levels of these characteristics, girls should be diagnosed with more behavioural problems or severe intellectual disability, or both.
The finding suggests that clinicians are missing many girls with the lowest disability on the autism spectrum, formerly known as Asperger’s syndrome.
In 2014, psychologist Thomas Fraser of the Cleveland Clinic and his colleagues evaluated 2,418 children with autism, including 304 girls. They also found that girls who were diagnosed were more likely to have lower IQs and severe behavioural problems. The girls also showed fewer (or perhaps less obvious) signs of “restricted interest”—focusing heavily on a particular subject, such as animals or Disney movies.
In low-risk patients, these interests are often diagnostic factors, but stereotypically “male” interests such as machines, timetables and numbers are often used for diagnosis.
A 2013 study found that girls are often diagnosed with autism later than boys. Pelphrey is one of a growing number of researchers who hope that understanding gender and biological sex can teach us about gender roles in autism. He had both professional and personal interests in autism. Of his three children, only the middle child is “typical”.
Pelphrey is currently collaborating with researchers at Harvard University, UCLA, and the University of Washington to conduct a large-scale study of girls and women with autism that will follow participants from childhood through early adulthood. The researchers wanted “hard clinical information that we could get because we didn’t know what to look for,” Pelfrey said. Therefore, they asked participants and family members to suggest areas of study because they themselves knew which were the most useful and helpful. The girls in the study will be compared to boys with autism and typically developing children of both sexes using brain scans, genetic testing, and other measures.
This comparison could help researchers determine developmental differences associated with gender and autism, whether autism itself affects gender differences in the brain, and how social and biological factors interact to shape gender-specific behaviour. In her initial research, Pelphrey has seen fascinating differences in girls with autism. According to him, “we keep finding that not everything we think about brain development is true.” The way we think about autism only applies to boys.” For example, children with autism often process social information using different brain centres. However, it doesn’t work for these girls, at least in the unpublished data her group has collected so far. Pelfrey found that the brains of autistic girls actually analysed social information differently than other girls. They are different from autistic children. Instead, each girl’s brain resembled that of a typical boy of the same age, with reduced activity in areas normally associated with social contact. “It’s still low compared to typically developing girls,” Pelfrey said, but it shows a measure of brain activity that wouldn’t be considered “even” for boys. In short, the brain of a girl with autism may be more like the brain of a typical boy than a boy with autism.
A small study published in 2014 by Jane McGillivray of Deakin University in Australia and colleagues provides behavioural evidence to support this idea. McGillivray and colleagues compared 25 autistic boys and 25 autistic girls with a similar number of typically developing children. On the quality of friendship and empathy scales, girls with autism generally scored as high as boys of the same age, but generally lower than girls.
Boys and girls with autism also play differently. The study found that autistic girls had fewer repetitive behaviours than boys and that autistic girls often did not have the same interests as stereotypical autistic boys, as Fraser and colleagues showed in 2014. Instead, their fun and desires are more like other girls.
Although autism is often characterized by a lack of creative play, research has found that this is not the case for girls. Furthermore, unlike boys, differences between typical development and autism may be smaller in the nature and severity of their interests in girls. These girls may refuse to talk about anything else or take the expected turn of the conversation. Words used to describe women on this spectrum mean “too much,” “too much, too intense, too sensitive, this, too that.”
Also, because many people with autism find the taste and texture of certain foods unpleasant, they often restrict their eating habits greatly. Several studies have pointed to a link between anorexia and autism: Studies have found that women with anorexia have higher levels of autistic traits than normal women. However, this does not mean that most women with anorexia are autistic.
Because autism and ADHD often co-occur, and people with ADHD tend to have higher levels of autistic traits than normal, girls who appear distracted or hyperactive are more likely to be distracted or hyperactive.
Obsessive-compulsive behaviour, rigidity, and fear of change were also observed in autistic and obsessive-compulsive subjects, suggesting that autistic females may also be hidden in this group.
Autistic females tend to be rude and take things literally, making girls and women with autism easy prey for sexual exploitation. In this way, autism can be more painful for women.
There may be people with autism who are not interested in social life and who do not care about their shortcomings, but who want to connect and do not struggle with loneliness.
Until recently, there were few resources available to help girls with autism deal with these issues. Now researchers and clinicians are beginning to fill these gaps.
As awareness of autism increases, women and girls are more likely to be diagnosed; this generation clearly has significant advantages over the past. But more research is needed to develop better and gender-appropriate diagnostic tools. Perhaps, at the same time, the experience of women with autism should teach us to be more tolerant of socially inappropriate female behaviour or less tolerant of male behaviour. In any case, it is clear that more awareness of autism in girls is needed to recognize this condition.
Girls with autism differ from boys with autism in several ways:
Creative games and emotional sayings
Females with autism typically begin engaging in creative play at a younger age than males. They also tend to say more emotional things.
Compared to males, females with autism have a higher understanding and desire for social interaction. They may hide their social difficulties by using coping strategies such as imitating other people’s facial expressions and gestures.
Area of interest
While most autistic women show a strong interest in people, such as animals and celebrities, men tend to show more interest in things.
Behaviour (internalizing disorders)
Females with autism are more likely than males to internalize psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Children, relationships, work, etc. This can be caused or exacerbated by the pressure to conform to female gender norms associated with relationships, jobs etc.
Because of these differences, most cases of autism in women are diagnosed late, while many cases go undiagnosed or are misdiagnosed. So it’s about raising awareness. The goal is to develop strategies for early detection and treatment.