According to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, about 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, also known as (ASD). These kids are “on the spectrum,” as you might hear therapists say. While Autistic Disorders occur among all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, ASD is four times more common in boys than in girls.
Or is it?
The higher prevalence rates among boys has led some researchers to wonder whether girls are being under-diagnosed because of the way that ASD presents in girls. So, let’s take a look at some of the gender based differences that make ASD appear different in boys vs. girls.
How Autism Spectrum Disorder Looks In Boys
There really is no difference between “how autism looks in boys,” and the typical signs and symptoms of ASD, which include:
- Avoids eye contact
- Uses facial expressions that don’t match what he is trying to say
- Lacks interest in other people
- Has difficulty reading nonverbal cues, or understanding emotions (of self or other)
- Doesn’t like being touched
- Has difficulty making same-aged friends
- Has a delay in learning how to talk, or doesn’t talk at all
- Repeats words without meaning
- Misses humor or sarcasm
- Has difficulty starting or maintaining a conversation
- Misunderstands simple statements or questions
- Repeats body movements, like hand slapping, or knocking things
- Has difficulty regulating his emotions, may act out angrily
- Reacts very strongly to stimuli (i.e. bright lights, loud noises)
- Rigidity (does not like change!)
How Autism Spectrum Disorder Looks In Girls
Considering the fact that early researchers, like Hans Asperger thought no women or girls were affected by the syndrome, it may come as no surprise that girls are often left out of the ASD conversation. However, girls who exhibit the following symptoms may, in fact, be at risk:
- She relies on other children to be a buffer, speaking for her throughout the school day
- She has epileptic seizures
- She is extremely passive with others
- She only wants to talk about things that are specific to her interests
- She has a difficult time making friends
- She is painfully shy
- She is very sensitive to loud noises, bright lights or strong smells (also a symptom for boys)
Speaking of gender, there is some evidence to suggest that children with Gender Dysphoria, meaning that they don’t identify with the gender that has been assigned to them, are more likely to have ASD. The reason for this is unclear, however, it is known that children with Gender Dysphoria tend to have higher rates of anxiety and depression as well. While therapists are still debating the best way to serve this unique population, this discovery is an important piece of the Autism puzzle.
Of course, none of the above symptoms, mean that your child should be diagnosed with ASD. However, if you are concerned that one of your children may be exhibiting signs of ASD, contact us. We specialize in treating children, adolescents, and adults who are on the spectrum, and we’d be honored to help.