Autism Under-diagnosis in Girls

September 28, 2017


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a brain and developmental disorder that begins when a person is very young, and continues for the rest of their lives. It is a “spectrum” disorder because although people with ASD tend to have problems interacting with others, communicating, and learning, the severity of these symptoms is usually different from person to person. The symptoms that people with ASD present lead to problems in everyday life.

A study by a team at UCLA looked at how boys and girls with autism interact with their peers. They found that boys with autism stuck out more easily; while the other boys would play in a large group, boys with autism would be off on their own. The girls, on the other hand, underwent what is called “social camouflaging”, where they would be near the other girls, while still failing to connect with them socially. A survey of doctors found that clear gender differences were reported in autism symptoms. Girls tended to be more verbal and socially interactive than boys, who also tended to repeat behaviors and have certain, obsessive interests. One researcher said that these obsessions tend to distract boys with autism away from socializing, but girls’ obsessions appear to be simply cute, and are considered more appropriate behavior.

The lack of obvious autism symptoms may limit girls from receiving an early diagnosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), autism intervention works best and has less of a financial burden the earlier in life it can be provided. This places a large barrier on African American populations, as well, who often lack the resources or the support network required to get a diagnosis and the help and therapy they need in the future.


Early intervention has many benefits that help children with autism better adjust to everyday life. First, it can help change the child’s development path, allowing them to communicate, socialize, and understand social norms better. Second, it increases the likelihood of improving learning and behavioral outcomes, which is easiest to improve in the first three years of a child’s life. Third, families are better able to meet their child’s special needs right away, and keep them throughout life. Lastly, early intervention decreases the need for children with autism to depend on special education and other social services; rather, they may be better equipped to socialize and play with their peers.

If you believe that your child has ASD or another form of developmental disorder, talk to your child’s pediatrician right away and talk about how to create the best care plan for your child.

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