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Autism in Girls and Boys: What’s the Difference?

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Autism doesn’t discriminate. 

Whether you’re a girl or boy, the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be applied to both genders. 

However, long-standing figures indicate boys are more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls. In fact, research from a 2021 study by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reported that an autism diagnosis is 4.2 times more common in boys than girls.  

The medical reasons for the greater prevalence of ASD in boys are still being debated. But what is unanimous among the medical community is that autism in girls presents differently than in boys. So much so that it’s difficult to diagnose in girls and, as a result, is often overlooked. 

So how do you know if your son or daughter has ASD, and what are the differences of autism in girls vs. boys? This is where Heartlinks can help

We have trained professionals that can diagnose and treat your child to ensure they get the customized therapy needed to thrive in this world, regardless of gender! 

What is Autism?

Autism is a developmental and neurological disorder affecting an individual’s learning, behavior, and interactions. 

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) describes autism as deficits in interaction skills, weaknesses in social communication (both verbal and non-verbal), and repetitive or restricted behaviors.  

Some of the key characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) include the following:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Repeating the exact phrases or words
  • Not responding to their name
  • Minimal participation in conversations
  • Repetitive behaviors and movements (i.e., rocking or hand flapping)
  • Not speaking with other children 

What are the Differences in Autism Between Boys and Girls?

The differences in signs and symptoms between boys and girls can be subtle. They can be so slight they often go undetected by standard screen tests. 

According to the most recent research, the following are a few ways autism displays itself differently in a male vs. female. 

Boy with Autism playing at home
  1. Girls with autism use non-verbal communication more often, including pointing and gazing. They are more likely to remain focused and are not easily distracted.
  2. Boys with autism usually have limited play interests (i.e., only playing with lego) and are repetitive in their behaviors and actions. 
  3. Girls on the spectrum have broader play interests and aren’t as repetitive.
  4. Girls can handle the early social demands of childhood. They run into difficulties later in life when they enter adolescence. Boys are just the opposite.
  5. Girls with autism are more likely to be depressed or suffer from social anxiety.
  6. Boys on the spectrum tend to engage in disruptive behavior to gain an object (i.e., a toy). Comparatively, girls will engage in more disruptive behaviors to gain attention. 
  7. Girls with autism tend to choose more traditional interests for their gender (i.e., movie stars and rock singers). Boys tend to choose more untraditional interests such as statistics, schedules, and transportation.  

How is Autism Diagnosed Differently in Boys vs. Girls?

Unlike other neurological disorders, there is no medical test to diagnose autism. Instead, doctors compare a child’s developmental history to their current behaviors to diagnose accurately.

The problem in diagnosing women with autism is that it has traditionally been underdiagnosed. 

Why is Autism Diagnosed More Often in Boys than Girls?

Girls are often undiagnosed because they don’t fit the ASD stereotypes. Though autism has the same criteria and clinical signs for both boys and girls, there is still a much higher rate in boys than in girls. There are many theories as to why this is the case. 

Symptoms differ between the genders.

Flapping hands is a repetitive behavior that doctors most often associated with autism. Yet, females on the spectrum often tend not to have as many repetitive behaviors as boys. 

Additionally, having particular interests is another symptom of a person on the spectrum. However, if a female shows an interest in a traditionally female hobby, such as dolls, medical professionals may consider it normal and overlook it.  

Girls mask symptoms better than boys

2 little girls playing together

A 2019 study indicated girls might be better able to mask their symptoms. Autistic females have a greater capacity to hide their behaviors and traits that would typically make them stand out from others. 

This is especially true if you have a girl on the spectrum with a high IQ. She can use her intelligence to observe her surroundings and determine ways to adapt to avoid sticking out. 

Girls exhibit socially acceptable behaviors.

Many autistic women who exhibit introversion or shyness are often overlooked because they demonstrate socially acceptable behavior for females in many cultures. These might be symptoms of ASD.

By comparison, males are expected to be more extroverted, loud, and aggressive. When they’re not, they stand out, and that’s why many experts believe autism is easier to diagnose in men.

The Problem with Misdiagnosing 

The symptoms of autism in girls vs. boys can vary greatly. Yet some professionals in the field argue the model used for diagnosing children with autism is a male one. 

That’s not implying that girls don’t fit that model. Instead, they tend to present their ASD symptoms in a much subtler and socially acceptable way. 

As a result, girls are diagnosed with depression, ADHD, or anxiety even though their symptoms meet the criteria for autism. Usually, it’s not until they’ve reached adolescence that their ability to mask their symptoms becomes too difficult.

Support is here!

Regardless of your child’s gender, an overlooked autism diagnosis can devastate their development. 

The price of misdiagnosis can lead many boys and girls to question why they’re different. Or why do they stand out? This can prevent them from accessing proper therapy. It can also lead to depression and anxiety.

That’s where Heartlinks ABA can help. With locations nationwide, we have the experts in securing an accurate diagnosis and the trained therapists to work with your child.

Every child who has autism experiences it in a unique way. Regardless of your boy or girl’s symptoms, supporting and getting them help is most important.

Heartlinks is here to help.

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