What are the main symptoms of autism in girls?
Autism in girls
In recent years increased research into autism (and in particular a 2013 study of 2500 children), how it is diagnosed, and how it presents in different individuals has revealed that girls are more likely to be misdiagnosed or undiagnosed for autism than their male counterparts.
At present, autism is believed to be four times more likely in boys than girls. However, understanding how autism presents differently in girls may change this. Understanding whether these figures exist because autism is more common in boys or simply because it is more easily identified in boys is crucial in ensuring that girls with autism get the diagnosis and help they need.
The symptoms of autism in girls
The symptoms of autism in girls are not vastly different from those in boys. Girls diagnosed with autism still display the common symptoms unique to autism:
- Issues with social communication and interaction
- Unique behavioral traits and actions
These signs of autism in children are generally the same in boys and girls.
However, research and this is very much ongoing, seems to suggest that girls with autism are better at hiding their symptoms in an attempt to fit in with their peers. Girls are better at mimicking the right social behavior and necessary behavioral cues that mask their autism.
The current diagnosis model has been built not just on the belief that autism is much more common in boys than girls but has been developed based on data relating mainly to boys with autism. This then means it has been developed with the behaviors and symptoms that present strongly in males with autism. This poses many challenges when diagnosing girls.
Girls are often more likely to be misdiagnosed
Girls are often more likely to be misdiagnosed, with many of their early symptoms of autism being mistaken for ADHD. Once they receive a diagnosis for something else such as ADHD, their autism symptoms are masked, this time by wrong or not wholly accurate diagnosis.
It can also be challenging to get medical professionals to see autism in girls. The inclination still seems to be that it must be something else because autism is ‘rare’ in girls. But this is increasingly not the case. It is still very difficult for autism to be seen in girls who are more towards the high functioning section of the autism spectrum.
There is continued research into how autism symptoms may vary between males and females. And early results seem to show that girls may struggle more with social interactions but at the same time show an ability to adapt better than their male peers with autism. Simultaneously, they may be less likely to display obsessive attention towards a subject, activity, or object but experience more issues relating to their emotional regulation and their cognitive and language development.
What is important is an increased awareness of how some girls with autism may be masking their symptoms. Being more alert to the subtle differences in how autism may present in girls and how girls may respond to their autistic tendencies is important in ensuring girls are diagnosed correctly and early. It may even lead to developing a different set of diagnostic criteria for girls with autism than boys.
Girls with undiagnosed or misdiagnosed autism are at risk for developing low self-esteem, depression, and other related mental health issues. They are also not receiving the right support and intervention early enough to help them manage their diagnosis.
In some cases, autism may also be the sign or symptom of an underlying condition, including a rare disease or genetic syndrome, including Rett syndrome. Missing autism in girls may also lead to a misdiagnosis in other areas of their health and medical history. A diagnosis of autism may also lead to further evaluation and assessment, including genetic counseling and analysis, to fully understand its causes.