There are many factors to consider when studying autism. Gender is one of the primary variables researchers look at to understand autism’s effects on the brain and development. As it turns out, autism can affect the genders in some very different ways. In this post, we’ll discuss the relationship between autism and gender and how symptoms may differ between boys, men and women and girls.
Studies show for every girl with autism there are four boys also on the autism spectrum. Statistically, this tells us autism is more prominent in boys. Due to this discrepancy, girls and women with autism tend to go underserved. Understanding the “why” beyond this phenomenon is crucial.
Underserved and Underdiagnosed
Autism’s symptoms and related conditions tend to manifest differently between the genders. Specifically, much of autism’s symptoms in girls tend to be subtler and harder to detect by both parents and clinicians. As such, doctors may miss the diagnosis within the child altogether. Some women will be diagnosed later in life for this exact reason.
Girls tend to go under-diagnosed with autism because their symptoms are more subtle and the way doctors have traditionally diagnosed autism caters more toward boys. The diagnostic criteria and assessments available to clinicians leans heavily on research conducted and focused on boys on the autism spectrum.
Along with missed diagnoses and different symptoms, younger girls also tend to be more adept at masking their symptoms to the world than their male counterparts. Part of this can be attributed to societal expectations, while the rest can be explained with the difference in behavioral and physiological development between boys and girls of the same age.
Extending the conversation past the traditional binary genders, even less is know about those who are “non-binary” or “gender queer.” The relationship between autism and gender is accordingly an ongoing subject of research with seemingly much more to discover.
Autism in Women- Why the differences?
Some of the main reasons identified for the gender difference include:
- The brain and its development differ between the sexes
- Hormones play a role in physiological development and can have unknown influence on autism’s symptoms
- Women may be more “protected from autism” by not only their ability to mask their symptoms but also by genetics and variances in prenatal hormones and postnatal development.
Boys on the autism spectrum tend to display more symptoms related to verbal communication and emotional distance than girls. Women and girls with autism are also more likely to experience related conditions like eating disorders at least partly due to their autism.
Treatments and early intervention like Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy can make a world of difference for either gender, as treatment can be individualized and tailored to a high degree and specific needs and challenges.
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