By Rebekah Devlin
Misdiagnosed, or dismissed completely by the medical profession, girls often go years, sometimes decades, before receiving their autism diagnosis.
“Oh, you don’t look autistic.”
It’s the phrase that makes autistic people (and their loved ones) cringe.
That’s because, many in the broader community still think in stereotypes and imagine an autistic person as a white, non-verbal, young boy who struggles with eye contact. That, or Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory (who according to the show’s producers, isn’t even autistic!).
Chances are an autistic girl or woman will not even enter their mind.
The current ratio of autistic males to autistic females is often put at 4:1, but recent research suggests the actual figure could be as low as 2:1.
While autistic boys are more likely to have outwardly challenging behaviours, autistic girls are more vulnerable to internalising issues and masking their feelings in an effort to blend in – meaning they often slip through the cracks of diagnosis.
Studies have found girls get diagnosed two years later than boys. But for some girls, it can be decades before they are diagnosed.
As girls can present with different symptoms to boys, many are dismissed by doctors as being “bossy” and “controlling” or just “shy” and sent home.
Psychologists then see them again in their teenage years, suffering mental health conditions like depression, eating disorders and anxiety.
But often doctors will only address those conditions, while still missing the fact that they’re the result of undiagnosed autism and the insidious impact of years of masking their true self. —–
WHAT CAN AUTISM IN GIRLS LOOK LIKE?
Recent studies do suggest some key differences between autistic boys and girls. Generally speaking, autistic girls:
• Are more likely to ‘mask’ (cover up) their autism by imitating others and suppressing their autistic traits.
• Are more likely to have better social and language skills.
• Are less likely to have restricted or repetitive behaviours (although they might simply be masking them better).
• Are more likely to have special interests that appear typical (such as an interest in animals, music, art or literature).
• Are more likely to talk about their feelings, and therefore, are less likely to outwardly exhibit physical behavioural issues.
• Have a strong imagination (might escape into the worlds of nature or fiction).
• Not want to play cooperatively with female peers (for example, want to dictate the rules of play or preferring to play alone to maintain control).
• Have a tendency to ‘mimic’ others in social situations in order to blend in.
Source: Autism. What Next? and Amaze
PRACTICAL HELP and insights for parents –
With 50 years’ experience, Professor Tony Attwood is considered a world authority on autism. Together with Tony, Source Kids has produced a series of videos covering a variety of key topics including What to do during a meltdown, When to tell your child about their diagnosis, How to find your child allies at school, Strategies to help build your child’s emotional awareness and Identifying the signs of anxiety.
To watch, head to https://sourcekids.com.au/tony-attwood-in-conversation/