This week on The Autistic Feminist, we talk about why autism is different in girls and how it influences them being underdiagnosed.
Everyone knows that every person on the spectrum is different, so why is it that many girls are left undiagnosed or are not diagnosed until they are older?
The misconception that there are no girls on the spectrum can be traced back to the 1940’s when Hans Asperger mentions that there are no girls affected by autism in Autistic Psychopathy in Childhood. Since the studies he made were on boys, there’s a bit of a bias in the diagnoses. The diagnostic criteria involve social and communication difficulties, and repetitive, inflexible behavior patterns. This data was derived almost entirely from studies of boys, and many girls have different symptoms.
Most girls on the spectrum don’t get diagnosed until a later age, and the girls who did get diagnosed at an earlier age tend to have more severe symptoms. Because of this, many people mistake the symptoms for other disorders such as ADHD or anxiety disorder.
A 2013 study has shown how autistic girls develop compared to autistic boys, and it showed that autistic girls tend to be more on-par with neurotypical boys the same age as them as far as social development goes. Neurotypical boys tend to be socially behind than neurotypical girls. Because of this, girls on the spectrum tend to be better at masking their symptoms. They often mimic and imitate their peers in social behavior, and this is why many girls often get the “but you don’t look autistic” when they come out.
Girls who have undiagnosed autism often develop self-esteem issues because they don’t know where their issues are coming from. When many girls get diagnosed late, often when they’re in their 20’s and 30’s, they actually get relieved because many questions are answered.
Boys and girls also play differently from each other. Many studies have shown that autistic girls tend to have less repetitive behaviors than boys do, and also tend to have interests that are more similar to that of other girls than of autistic boys. For girls, it’s not really the interests that are necessarily considered atypical, but rather the intensity of those interests. For example, a girl on the spectrum can be interested in animals or Disney movies but would be more intense than that of neurotypical girls.
This is probably one of the many reasons why the so-called “model” of autism should be eliminated since the gender bias is pretty obvious due to the diagnostic criteria being based on stereotypes.