Autism Awareness Month 2016: Girls and Women on the Autism Spectrum
We are finally beginning to look at the gender gap in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in order to better understand girls. Researchers, practitioners, and women on the spectrum have begun to share information on girls with ASD to help us all better understand this segment of the autism population. Some of the information we have learned about girls includes:
- Fewer girls than boys may have ASD because it takes more autism risk genes to move girls’ brain development onto the autism spectrum than it does for boys
- Girls with milder characteristics of ASD are generally diagnosed two years after their male counterparts
- Girls identified with autism tend to have more severe behavior challenges and lower intelligence. However, it may be that we are missing girls who are higher functioning and who display less disruptive behaviors.
- Girls tend to obsess over friendships and can develop a close and likeminded allies
- Girls with ASD often have fewer repetitive behaviors and special interests than boys on the spectrum. Girls' special interests may go unnoticed because they are often considered more socially acceptable (i.e., dolls, books, people, animals)
- Depression and anxiety rates for girls are high with approximately 1/3 experiencing their challenges
- Girls have a high need for routine and sameness
- They are better at masking or camouflaging their social skills challenges, more easily mimicking the social behavior of typically developing girls
- Girls with ASD tend to be more social than boys – with an increased desire to interact with others, more highly developed social imitation skills, and better verbal skills
- They often observe and try to understand a situation before they make the first step and may mimic or even try to take on all the characteristics of someone they are trying to emulate; in fact, girls may be so successful at "faking it" that they only come to the attention of a clinician when a secondary mood disorder emerges.
- Girls with ASD have better imaginations than their male peers
We are in the beginning stages of understanding girls on the spectrum. These differences may lead to the development of new tools for identifying girls. From that, hopefully, interventions will be identified that are effective for this perhaps-unique population of individuals on the spectrum.