Late autism diagnoses in girls: Unveiling the problem

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What’s Happening?

Autism diagnosis in girls often gets delayed compared to boys. Why?

Because girls might show different characteristics than the typical signs associated with autism. This makes it challenging for them to get the necessary support they need.

The Researchers’ Perspective

At Flinders University, a group of researchers delved into this issue. They suggested that the under-detection of autism in girls might be due to two reasons.

Firstly, girls with autism tend to behave differently compared to boys. Secondly, the diagnostic tools used are generally designed around the traits seen in boys, which may not be sensitive to the signs presented by girls.

Dr. Joanna Tsirgiotis, the lead researcher, shared, “We need to better understand the unique challenges of girls so that we can improve our diagnostic assessment processes.”

Unique Traits of Autistic Girls

Autistic girls can display less obviously unusual interests and engage in fewer repetitive behaviors compared to boys.

They also tend to be highly socially motivated, unlike the common perception of autism.

Girls often exhibit good imaginative skills and the ability to mimic social behaviors, which could make their symptoms less visible, leading to a missed diagnosis.

The Study Findings

The team at Flinders University examined 777 children’s profiles using two common autism diagnostic tools to uncover these differences.

They found that girls’ symptoms can often be misinterpreted as anxiety or quirkiness, or even passed off as ‘normal’ behavior. As a result, girls’ autism diagnosis might get delayed or overlooked entirely.

In another related study, the researchers found that clinicians often feel less confident when assessing girls for autism, as they interpret autism behaviors differently based on the child’s gender.

Conclusion and Next Steps

The researchers suggest that for timely autism diagnosis in girls, there’s a need for more understanding of their unique challenges and for assessment tools to adapt to what we are learning about autism in girls.

Professor Robyn Young, the co-author of the research, emphasized the importance of educating diagnosticians, clinicians, and teachers about these differences to ensure the timely detection of autism in girls.

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The study was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

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