Girls, Women and Autism Spectrum Diagnoses

freedom-2768515_640In past blogs, I have discussed the reasons that girls are less likely to be diagnosed with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. Unfortunately, this lack of ASD diagnoses has significant ramifications. With a diagnosis, girls receive the knowledge of why they behave in a certain manner, a strong aversion to scents, foods, textures, an insistence on sameness to name a few. They are then empowered with coping strategies for dealing with these needs in a somewhat unfriendly world. The girls realize they are not weird, or anti-social. They’re merely autistic. A happy and fulfilling life is well within their grasp once they have the knowledge and can advocate for what they need.

Without an early diagnosis of ASD girls do not receive early intervention. Without receiving early strategies peers and adults may view the girls as weird, abrasive, or not at all. The girls act out to get their needs met or work diligently to blend into the backdrop of their peers, internalizing their daily struggles. Méabh Ní Choileáin eloquently explains the struggles she experienced without a diagnosis of autism and the relief she felt once she received one.

The girls who act out in response to their ASD sensitivities may be given other diagnoses, such as Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Anxiety disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. All of these diagnoses have an effect on the compassion of those working with the girls. There can be an overlap of some of the strategies used, however, none of these diagnoses tells the full story. There will still be something missing.

Things may become especially dire if the girl happens to receive Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Adults tend to view a child with this diagnosis as a bad kid. Very few adults are willing to take the time to get to know a kid with this diagnosis and the pathway is set for that child to be continually reprimanded, and suspended, possibly sent to alternative schools. Not only is an Aspie girl with an ODD diagnosis missing out on the strategies that are helpful to her, she has to cope with a world that is actively hostile, and she misses out on relationships with others.

Girls who blend into the background may also be alienated by their peers. They will be just different enough to appear weird, but not enough to cultivate help and compassion. Another difficulty girls experience is developing a sense of self-worth. Self-esteem is difficult to cultivate when you are busy analyzing and then imitating others around you.  These girls can feel afraid to show their true selves.  They may over analysis each social situation and berate themselves for being strange. All of this can lead to depression.

With all of these reasons, why aren’t we being more accurate in our diagnoses and treatment plans?

I summed up the reasons in my blog, “The Numbers“. We just haven’t done enough observations and research with girls that have ASD. The diagnostic criteria are based on what we know of boys’ behaviors.

It’s time for researchers to acknowledge that girls and boys are physically and physiologically different and allow for these differences in presentation. It is imperative that all children/people who need additional help living successfully receive what they need. If someone needed glasses at age 4 and didn’t receive them, think how difficult our society would be to navigate. We would make sure that child received glasses. Let’s make sure our girls with ASD receive what they need to be successful.

Rebecca J. Weaver is a Certified Autism Specialist at Independent with Autism, working to empower individuals with ASD. Need help creating your success strategies? Check out IndependentwithAutism.com for more information.

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