Girls with autism don’t always exhibit the same behavior patterns as boys and tend to fly under the radar and avoid a proper diagnosis until well into adulthood. But it turns out that girls tend to exhibit their symptoms more quietly than their male counterparts. Women, in general, have been taught to engage in mannerisms in public that are seen as more polite or feminine, which could contribute to heavier masking.
A delayed Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis or other misdiagnoses such as ADHD in girls means they’ll miss out on helpful support systems and resources that will help them navigate the challenges they may encounter with their neurotypical peers. Being aware of these symptoms earlier can give autistic girls a better chance to feel empowered in social situations for the rest of their lives.
Signs of Autism in Girls
No one symptom definitively suggests that a child has autism, but an essential hallmark of ASD is that the behaviors exhibited will most likely hinder daily function. Especially in girls, their symptoms may not even be that obvious until their early teen years, but taking a closer look may help you spot these tendencies sooner.
Some examples of typical early childhood symptoms are:
- Difficulty expressing their needs or feelings
- Rocking or other self-soothing behaviors
- Having severe responses to certain stimuli, such as sounds or visuals
- Intense but limited interests
- Being aversive to physical touch
- Avoiding eye contact
- Difficulty interpreting verbal instructions
- Regressing in development, such as no longer being able to say words they once knew
Are Girls Under-Diagnosed In Comparison To Boys?
When it comes to ASD, there is something known as the autism sex ratio, which details the ages at which girls are diagnosed with autism compared to boys. A comprehensive study in 2017 that compiled data from 54 prevalence studies revealed that 4.2 boys had been diagnosed with autism for every one girl. Out of the 54, only 20 of those studies did not rely on previous diagnoses and still came up with 3.25 boys for every girl diagnosed.
William Mandy, a University of London senior lecturer in clinical psychology, explained, “It implies that there’s a group of females out there who, if you assess them, will meet criteria, but for whatever reason, they’re not getting assessed.”
It seems that girls are flying under the radar because they are more likely to camouflage in social interactions successfully and tend to not have the same overt physical behaviors as boys, such as hand flapping. Their intense special interests are also more socially acceptable, such as horses, and are not considered atypical.
What To Do If You Suspect Your Child May Be Autistic?
When you take your child in for a routine visit with their pediatrician, you’ll most likely have a conversation about whether or not your child is hitting the appropriate milestones for their age range, such as crawling, babbling, etc. One of these appointments is the perfect time to describe your child’s symptoms with their doctor.
However, suppose your child’s symptoms are less evident as an infant or toddler. In that case, older children can receive a referral for an ASD screening with a specialist, which comprises various simple tests to examine patterns in speech, behavior, and learning.
Getting an early diagnosis in your child, whether they’re a girl or boy, can save them a lot of stress in their future and help them better handle adverse situations with their peers, such as teasing or bullying. It also arms you with the tools to be a better advocate for your child, in addition to members of their community with the condition.
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.