Understanding Autism in Girls: Key Signs and Symptoms - Hidden Talents ABA

Understanding Autism in Girls: Key Signs and Symptoms

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November 23, 2023 Understanding Autism in Girls: Key Signs and Symptoms

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. While it can be diagnosed at any age, the signs typically appear in the first two years of life. Autism is commonly associated with boys, as they are four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. However, recent studies suggest that women and girls may simply exhibit different symptoms, which often go unnoticed. Here is a closer look at the signs of autism in girls.

Autism traits in girls

Girls with autism often exhibit traits that are different from those typically seen in boys diagnosed with autism. These can include a high desire for social interaction and friendship, even though they might find it difficult to understand social norms. They may have intense interests, but these are often aligned with those of their peers, such as horses, dolls, or literature. Girls with autism also tend to be quiet and can be perceived as shy or introverted. They might have a highly developed imagination, leading to engaging in complex pretend play.

Moreover, they are often good at mimicking social behavior which can mask their difficulties, leading to a delay in diagnosis or a lack of recognition of their condition. These traits, however, vary from individual to individual, as autism spectrum disorder encompasses a wide range of symptoms and behaviors.

Challenges girls with autism spectrum disorder may face

Social Interaction Difficulties

Girls with autism might struggle with social interaction, but this could manifest in less obvious ways than in boys. They may have one or two close friends rather than a large group, and they might prefer to interact one-on-one than in larger groups. They might also find it challenging to initiate and maintain conversations.

Intense Interests in Specific Subjects

Girls with autism may have intense interests, but these are often aligned with those of their peers, making this sign of autism spectrum disorders less noticeable. For instance, if a girl is obsessed with horses, it might not raise flags. However, if her interest is consuming to the point where it's all she talks about, it could be a sign of autism.

Sensory Sensitivities

Girls with autism often have sensory sensitivities. They might be bothered by certain textures, sounds, smells, or tastes. This could manifest as picky eating or an aversion to specific types of clothing.

Difficulty with Changes in Routine

Many girls with autism thrive on routine and predictability. Changes in their schedule or environment can cause them significant distress.

Imitation and Camouflaging

It's been observed that many girls with autism are adept at 'camouflaging' their symptoms. They may observe and copy their peers' behavior, expressions, and gestures to fit in. This mimicry, while a coping mechanism, can make it harder to identify autism.

Emotional Challenges

Girls with autism might struggle with managing their emotions. They may have difficulty identifying and expressing their feelings, leading to emotional outbursts or seeming overly sensitive.

Missed signs of autism in girls

In the context of autism screening, certain autism symptoms may tend to be overlooked in girls of young age due to social expectations or biases. These overlooked or missed symptoms can include:

Subtle Social Struggles

While girls with autism may struggle with social interaction, their difficulties in social situations may be more nuanced and less noticeable. They may seem shy or introverted, rather than displaying more overt social difficulties like their male counterparts.

Camouflaging

The tendency for girls with autism to camouflage their symptoms, as mentioned earlier, is a significant factor leading to missed diagnoses. They may study body language and reproduce social behavior, which can mask their struggles with their social skills and interaction.

Anxiety and Depression

Girls with autism are often more prone to anxiety and depression. However, these conditions may be seen as standalone, leading to a missed autism diagnosis.

Intellectual Disability

While intellectual disability occurs in both genders with autism, research suggests it might not be recognized as a sign of autism in girls, leading to a delayed or missed diagnosis.

Less Obsessive Interests

While girls with autism do have intense interests, they're often seen as less obsessive or unusual than those of boys with autism, leading to them being overlooked as an autism symptom.

Why Do Girls With Autism Go Undiagnosed?

Girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often go undiagnosed due to a variety of factors. Traditionally, most research and diagnostic criteria for autism have been based on male-centric symptoms and behavior. This leads to skewed understanding and recognition of female autism and the disorder, leaving many girls undetected.

Societal biases and stereotypes also play a considerable role, as girls are often expected to be more sociable and emotional. This expectation can mask the symptoms of ASD, as girls are more likely to camouflage their struggles to fit societal norms.

Moreover, the symptoms of ASD in girls are often misattributed to other conditions like anxiety or depression, further complicating the diagnosis. In some cases, girls might not exhibit the intense, narrow interests typically associated with ASD, or their interests align with those of their peers, making it less likely for these signs to raise alarm.

Additionally, girls with ASD often develop advanced imitation skills in early childhood, which help them camouflage their condition by mimicking their peers. This 'camouflaging' behavior can lead to a delay in diagnosis or even go undiagnosed, as it conceals the more classic symptoms of autism.

In conclusion, a combination of societal expectations of autistic traits, gender biases in diagnostic criteria, and the unique symptomatology of ASD in girls contributes to the under diagnosis and misdiagnosis of ASD in girls. It's crucial for healthcare providers to understand these differences and adapt their diagnostic processes to ensure girls with ASD receive the support they need.

How is Autism Diagnosed in Girls?

Autism is diagnosed in girls in much the same way it is diagnosed in boys, but there are some unique considerations due to differences in behavior and social expectations. The diagnostic process typically involves a multi-disciplinary team of specialists and includes a combination of observations, interviews, and testing.

Here are the general steps:

Developmental Screening: This is a short test to tell if children are learning basic skills when they should, or if they might have delays. If the doctor sees any signs of a problem, a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation is needed.

Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation: This thorough review may include looking at the child’s behavior and development and interviewing the parents. It may also include a hearing and vision screening, genetic testing, neurological testing, and other medical testing.

Behavioral Evaluation: A specialist will observe the child's behavior, communication abilities, and social interactions. They may use standardized autism-specific tools such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).

In girls, autism can sometimes be overlooked or misdiagnosed because they may exhibit different behaviors than boys. For example, girls with autism might be quieter, less aggressive, and more likely to blend in with their peers compared to boys. They might also have intense interests that seem typical for their gender, making it harder to recognize these as symptoms of autism.

It's important for parents and health professionals to be aware of these differences to ensure girls with autism get the diagnosis, early intervention and support they need.

Remember, each individual is unique, and not everyone will fit the typical profile. The key is to look for persistent patterns of behavior that interfere with daily life and development.

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Sources:

NAS

 Beyond Autism

 Autism Awareness Centre

 VeryWell Health

 Autistic Girl Network

 Child Mind Institute

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