From the moment they exit the womb, children develop at a dizzying rate, and it’s all you can do to ensure that critical milestones are met along the way. As you track their mental, physical, emotional, and social health, recognizing the early signs of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is critical to giving your child the tools they need to make their way in the world.
ASD diagnosis can be tricky, as it encompasses a number of conditions that affect how your child socializes, copes, and communicates. Making matters more difficult is the role that gender plays in how children show the signs of ASD.
At Plymouth Psych Group, our team of mental health clinicians specializes in autism, and we understand the broad range of symptoms and how these symptoms may be different between boys and girls.
Here’s a look at autism in girls and why the signs can be different.
Bucking the numbers and the stereotypes
One of the issues that may contribute to misdiagnosing ASD in girls is because of simple statistics. Since boys have more incidents of ASD, parents and health care experts may not be as vigilant when it comes to looking for autism in girls.
Another contributing factor is that there are certain stereotypes when it comes to boys and girls that may play out in terms of diagnosing autism. For example, girls are taught to be more quiet and less “rowdy,” which means that the signs of ASD may not be noticed as readily.
Hiding symptoms and handling stress
Going a step further, girls are generally more aware of their surroundings and work harder to “fit in,” which means they may still form relationships with their peers. This doesn’t mean that a girl isn’t still struggling with her social skills. She’s just able to work past it by mimicking the social behaviors around her.
If you find that your daughter functions well in school, but often has meltdowns at home, this may be because she’s releasing some of her frustration in the comforts of her own home.
Boys, on the other hand, are more prone to act out, especially physically, which draws more attention to their problem. As well, boys are more apt to develop repetitive behaviors that help them handle the stress, while girls may turn inward, with some even resorting to self-harm.
Rounding out some of the differences in how ASD manifests in girls versus boys is that boys have more issues with impulse control, while girls are better able to control their behaviors.
As you can see, the problem isn’t that girls aren't affected by autism in the same ways that boys are, but that the signs are more difficult to spot.
Developing at different speeds
The final point we’d like to touch on is the simple fact that girls tend to mature more quickly than boys — physically, mentally, and emotionally. This means that the symptoms of an ASD may be masked by the fact that girls have more “tools” to work with, such as an earlier emotional intelligence.
Because of this, girls are often diagnosed with ASD much later than boys, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t need the same support that boys benefit from. At our practice, we offer autism programs for boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 18 and young adults to give them the tools they need to become productive and happy adults.
If you have more questions about a diagnostic assessment or the programs offered, please don’t hesitate to contact our office in Plymouth, Minnesota, to set up a consultation.