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Females and Autism

Girls and women are diagnosed as autistic significantly less often than boys and men, but many psychologists believe that the true difference in occurrence is much smaller than current diagnosis rates indicate. In general, there seems to be a more subtle presentation of autism symptoms in females than in males, a presentation which evidence indicates is true from a young age. Studies have found that girls are more likely than boys to internalize their differences so as not to stand out from their peers, and are also more likely to control their autistic behaviors in public. In addition, it’s been observed in studies that girls are given less societal leeway AND are given more feedback and correction when their behavior is atypical. Furthermore, females have the same tendencies as males for sensory sensitivities that are common with autism, but girls may be less likely to speak up about their discomforts. Researchers have also determined that girls have strong abilities to understand how others are interacting with each other, both verbally and non-verbally, and that they have greater abilities and tendencies to mirror those interactions than boys seem to. Thus, leading theory is that these gender differences result in a more neurotypical appearance or affect for girls on the spectrum than for boys, and a lowered likelihood of young females being diagnosed or even referred for evaluation. This theory seems especially true when higher IQs and higher verbal skills are at play, as those traits can lead to further masking of autism symptoms. As well, misdiagnosis can be a contributing factor in the under diagnosis of females, with common misdiagnoses including depression, anxiety, and ADHD. An additional complicating factor: because those conditions can often be co-occurring with autism, a diagnosis of one of them could provide the false security that a patient's challenges have been fully discovered. If undiagnosed, autistic females miss out on the opportunity to understand their differences and how those differences affect them. They also cannot utilize important supports which could make a real difference in their daily experience.

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