The Path to Functioning and Development: Why Do So Many Women With ASD Get Diagnosed So Late in Life?

January 28, 2020

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The autism spectrum is still not completely understood by doctors. There is still a debate over the causes and the best course of treatment. For many women, the diagnosis comes later in life, after they’ve spent their youth adjusting to social norms as best as they can.

Even as adults, people with autism can find it difficult to meet the expectations of adulthood. Job training for autistic adults can help achieve the goal of self-sufficiency.

Despite the prevalence of autism, there is still a significant amount of discrepancy of girls with autism being overlooked. Why does this happen?

Far More Boys Are Diagnosed with Autism Than Girls

Studies into the predominance of autism suggest that boys are diagnosed at a ratio of 3:1 compared to young girls diagnosed. That indicates that three boys are diagnosed for every one girl. This discrepancy in childhood leads to more women diagnosed as adults.

As a result, girls have shut out of early prevention and treatment options their male counterparts have access to. But still, the girls persist, despite their disadvantages in receiving a diagnosis and the help that comes with it.

Symptoms Present Differently in Girls

Certain symptoms are widely understood to indicate the possibility of autism. Two of the most common are a lack of eye contact and repetitive behaviors. However, repetitive and fixated behaviors are less likely to occur in girls with autism. That is one of the reasons for the great divide in the diagnosis numbers.

In addition, it is possible that boys simply are more genetically disposed to having autism than girls are. Researchers still don’t understand much about why anyone gets autism – male or female. However, initial research focused solely on males, which may have left females with autism out of the equation.

‘Camouflaging’ Symptoms

Studies indicate that it is easier for girls to mask their symptoms than it is for boys. Girls are able to assimilate into society by finding ways to work around their symptoms. For example, if they find eye contact difficult, they can simulate eye contact by looking in the general direction of the person’s face.

In some cases, girls have no choice but to mask their symptoms after having a doctor refuse an autism diagnosis. Even doctors aren’t immune to falling into the misconception that autism affects only males.

An Autism Diagnosis Often a Relief, Even Late

Whatever the reason behind a late diagnosis, many women are flooded with relief at the validation a diagnosis offers. There is hope on the horizon that more girls will be correctly diagnosed in a timely manner going forward.

However, many women diagnosed later in life believe that late diagnosis is better than no diagnosis at all.

Just twenty-five years ago, the discrepancy between girls and boys being diagnosed was twice as high. In 1995, the ratio was 8:1.  More autism diagnoses may not sound like a good thing, but it is if it means more girls are given access to treatments at an earlier age.

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