Girls Diagnosed with Autism Later than Boys, Study Says

Veena Ahuja, MD, tells us why girls are often diagnosed with autism later than boys – and how to spot autism at an early age.

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CLEVELAND – About 1 in every 59 U.S. children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Now, a recent study shows, on average, girls are typically diagnosed with autism about a year and half later than boys.

Veena Ahuja, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, who did not take part in the study, said girls are likely diagnosed later because autism traits are often more subtle for them.

“When boys come in, often times the complaint is that they’re not able to sit in their seat; they’re wandering away, they’re doing things that are, kind of, in people’s faces where you realize it more,” she said. “Girls are definitely more likely to be able to blend in a little bit more, until they get to an older age where you start to realize that they’re not interacting as much as their peers.”

Dr. Ahuja said many times when kids are on the mild end of the autism spectrum, the signs and symptoms do not start to become noticeable until elementary school.

She said one way to investigate is to see if a child is able to talk about their feelings.

“By the time they hit elementary school, a kid should be able to talk about their emotions, or thoughts,” said Dr. Ahuja. “Most kids should be able to describe even more abstract things. However, kids that are on the spectrum, including girls, will have a harder time with that. So, if you ask them how they’re feeling, they don’t know how to describe what they’re feeling inside.”

Dr. Ahuja said many parents may suspect their child is on the spectrum, but don’t bring them in for an evaluation because they are fearful.

She assures parents that autism is not something to be ashamed of. And when a diagnosis is made, it just makes it easier for a child to receive the help they need.

Because the brain develops at a very young age, Dr. Ahuja says early intervention is key for therapies to be effective.

Even if a child is diagnosed well into their school years, she said it’s still important to get the appropriate services that will help them down the line.

“What we know about autism is that early intervention is key,” said Dr. Ahuja. “The earlier we can get somebody in there to help the child, the better they’re going to do in the long term. We also know that a lot of the stigma around autism is definitely going away as kids get older.”

Complete results of the study can be found in Autism Research.

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