neurodiversity counseling

The Gender Gap in Autism Diagnosis

Girls and women are underdiagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. There are a number of reasons for this. Most importantly, though, is that the vast majority of research into autism has been specific to boys. In some studies, boys are reported to be 15 times more likely to have autism than girls. Let’s talk about why that’s most likely incorrect, and how the signs of autism in girls can be harder to spot.

The research only expands the gender gap

Researchers have dug themselves into a hole when it comes to accurately researching how autism impacts females. The reason for this is that researchers have primarily focused on boys, specifically white boys, when studying autism. There’s nothing inherently wrong with researching white boys on this topic. However, it’s concerning that they have predominantly been the focus while other genders and races have been largely ignored.

Diagnosing autism has been predominantly based on the characteristics of one demographic. As a result, individuals who do not fit this specific characteristic are often overlooked. This naturally leads to a higher likelihood of white boys receiving an autism diagnosis because the diagnosis was based on them. (There is no difference in when parents of autistic children of different races or ethnicities noticed symptoms. Despite this, white children are more likely to receive a diagnosis.)

The research on autism has largely influenced the understanding of what autism is. It’s crucial that we conduct more research on females, particularly girls, as there is a significant lack of research on gender differences in autism. There’s even research on the gender gap that calls out how little research has been done on this topic.

Why signs of autism in girls are less “visible”

  • Girls are under more social pressure to portray “acceptable” behaviors (there’s less room for them to be “odd”)
  • Autistic girls (generally) display less repetitive and restricted behavior than boys (some of the key indicators of autism)
  • Autistic girls are more likely to be expected to control their behavior in public, so their teachers (and doctors) are less likely to catch their differences
  • Autistic girls are much more likely to be misdiagnosed with anxiety, depression, ADHD, or poor self-esteem
  • Girls are much more likely to “pass” as neurotypical, especially in elementary school, when friendships are not complicated by puberty (life was easier then for all of us, wasn’t it?)

The good news: this issue is becoming more visible as the autistic community is more vocal than ever. Autistic women are starting to understand who they are and what makes them unique more clearly. It’s leading to a resurgence of awareness of the differences. Social Media is especially empowering, as autistic women and girls are able to tell their own stories directly to their audiences. This enables a wider understanding of the underrepresentation and puts pressure on the medical community to include women (and all underserved demographics) when considering what autism is and how it effects people.

As an autistic woman myself, I’ve lived through the difficult process of coming to terms with my autism. I understand how hard it can be to navigate a diagnosis that wasn’t made for you. It’s tough to understand who you are when the medical community or the research doesn’t make it easy. If you are autistic or suspect that you might be, let’s talk! I specialize in treating people who have autism. I specifically delight in helping women through this journey of self-discovery.

If you’re interested in chatting, let’s set up a time to talk! Fifteen minute consultations are free – schedule yours today.

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