Have you ever wondered why more men and boys are diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and autism?

According to The National Autistic Society (NAS), more men and boys are diagnosed with autism than women and girls. Various studies and focus groups have suggested that diagnosis ratios range anywhere from 2:1 to 16:1.

In her paper Sex ratios in early childhood autism and related conditions, Lisa Wing notes that among people diagnosed with high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome there are as many as “15 times as many men and boys as women and girls, while in people with learning difficulties as well as autism the ratio of men and boys to women and girls was closer to 2:1.”

This could suggest that, while women and girls are less prone to developing autism, those who do are more severely affected. Alternatively, it could indicate that ‘high-functioning’ autism is not diagnosed as readily in females, in comparison to men and boys.

How does autism present itself differently in women and girls, and does this make it harder to diagnose?

Disguising signs

The diagnosis of autism and Asperger Syndrome is primarily based on the "triad of impairments", and girls are more likely to display different levels of each "impairment".

This can make it harder to diagnose Asperger Syndrome. (Source: SEN Magazine)

Having more social interactions

Women and girls sometimes feel an inherent need to interact socially, whether it be by nature or in response to external expectations.

Girls on the Autism spectrum are often found interacting in games and play, but are often directed with this rather than initiating the contact. Girls are more naturally social aware and many will have a special friend, rather than a diverse group of friends. (Source: National Autistic Society)

Do girls suffer from the weight of social expectation?

In society generally, there is an expectation that girls are more vocal in their communication.

However, women and girls on the spectrum are not inclined to 'do social chit chat' or make small talk in order to ease social communication. (Source: National Autistic Society)

Having livelier imaginations and engaging in made-up play more often

Evidence has suggested that women and girls have more active imaginations than boys when it comes to playing games. Many create a very full and decorative make-believe world for themselves to inhabit – a safe place, if you will.

Girls are prone to escape into fiction, and some live in another world with entirely, for example, imaginary friends. (Source: Knickmeyer, Wheelwright and Baron-Cohen, 2008)

Having the same interests

Autism in girls

The social interests of girls on the autism spectrum are usually similar to those of other girls – animals, gymnastics and horses for example, and so are often not seen as unusual or a cause for concern.

It is the quality and strength of these interests that separate women and girls on the spectrum, from those who are not on it. Many fanatically watch television programmes and have a strong interest in a particular person or group.

The occurrence of repetitive behaviour and exceptional hobbies is part of the ‘diagnostic criteria’ for an autism spectrum condition. (Source: National Autistic Society)

The issue of young women and girls being diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, and the daily struggles females face forms the focus of a new training resource, Understanding Autism: A training pack based on ‘Postcards from Aspie World’ by Dan Redfearn, Holly Turton, Helen Larder and Hayden Larder and the accompanying postcard set, Postcards from Aspie World by Helen Larder and Hayden Larder.

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