Limitations in care for girls with autism as a result of being undiagnosed
Updated: Jun 18, 2022
Current diagnostic methods overlook the different symptoms between girls and boys, resulting in fewer diagnoses for girls with autism.
Image source: Cleveland Clinic
According to Scientific American, one in 68 children in the US are diagnosed with autism. However, recent studies have suggested that the current diagnostic methods in the US overlook the differences in symptoms between girls and boys––meaning there are likely more undiagnosed children in the US. A National Library of Medicine study claims for every three boys diagnosed with autism; one girl is diagnosed.
However, it is essential to note that the symptoms of autism in women are not very different from those in men. Instead, many experts believe that women and girls are more likely to camouflage or hide their symptoms.
According to Healthline, standard forms of camouflaging include:
forcing yourself to make eye contact during conversations
preparing jokes or phrases ahead of time to use in conversation
mimicking the social behavior of others
imitating expressions and gestures
Although both males and females with autism can camouflage their symptoms, it is more common in women and girls, providing a likely explanation for why they are diagnosed less. Neither parents nor medical experts always pick up on camouflage. In addition, whatever symptoms do occur are often misdiagnosed for other disorders or illnesses. As a result, fewer women and girls are treated for their symptoms––a significant limitation in care.
Image Source: Lifeway Women
When girls with autism go undiagnosed, there are many high costs, such as depression, anxiety, and loss of self-esteem. When they work twice as hard to fit in, it wears them down and causes mental turmoil. Another cost of being overlooked for diagnosis is missing out on early support for skill-building–life and social skills.
Personal account from a parent: One parent on Reddit claims they only just signed up for an appointment with a psychologist to get an official diagnosis for their girl at 15. Because their daughter could camouflage, they did not recognize the need for a diagnosis. They left it up to their daughter whether or not she wanted to be diagnosed, and she chose to make an appointment.
Another Reddit user with autism claimed that seeking help and treatment for her neurological disorder was a struggle as a young girl. She remembers that her mother tried to get her aid when she was young. However, she remembers her mother was often dismissed about her issues and was provided with no care because it was assumed that she did not have symptoms. The Reddit user advocates that parents of young girls who may have autism seek a diagnosis and professional help as early as possible.
Parents concerned their daughter–or son–may be displaying symptoms of autism are highly recommended to seek a professional diagnosis to begin treatment as early as possible. Online resources––blog posts, medical studies, health and wellness websites, and more––can assist in determining whether the symptoms or camouflaging the child is displaying are those of autism.
Image Source: Your Teen Magazine
Given that young girls tend to be better at masking their symptoms, it can be incredibly isolating and challenging for them. Sources are available to help them, such as The Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network, a nonprofit organization that supports women and gender-nonconforming autistic people. If they are not ready to interact with someone, there are also blog posts, first-person stories, and doctor recommendations online.