Opinion Conversations on the science of autism research.
Opinion

Gender bias

by  /  13 January 2011

Autism affects 1 in 100 children and approximately four times as many boys as girls. This perception — that autism is a disorder of boys — can too easily become self-fulfilling: girls with autism, it turns out, are less likely to be diagnosed than their male counterparts.

According to a study published in October in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, doctors are more likely to miss autism in girls even when their symptoms are as severe as those of boys.

Using data collected from 14,000 children born between 1991 and 1993, researchers found 142 children who would meet the criteria for a diagnosis of autism, but were undiagnosed.

Although boys generally have what the researchers dub more ‘severe autism,’ girls with equally severe autism were more likely to be undiagnosed than these boys. Overall, 82 percent of the girls with autism were undiagnosed compared with 63 percent of the boys.

Fitting into society is arguably harder for girls with autism than it is for boys. People with autism are sometimes described as having an ‘extreme male brain,’ associated with male traits — systemizing, as opposed to empathizing.

Considering this, I find it surprising that girls with autism remain undiagnosed. If autism is less in line with expected female behavior, one would think the symptoms would be even more obvious in girls. Instead, the general belief that girls don’t get autism may be such a powerful bias that it operates even when girls are severely affected.

The implications of underdiagnosing girls are far-reaching. Unfortunately, because so few females are diagnosed with autism, few research studies include them — ensuring that any differences between boys and girls with autism remain a mystery.


4 responses to “Gender bias”

  1. Miilanna says:

    Some of the loneliest people around are female autistic adults. More than their male counterparts, females with autism are expected to be better at socializing and innuendae. Manipulative and competitive females abound, but autistics generally cannot master the often cut-throat social games. We end up finding males easier to friend, but are more often the “advisor” to males who seek to attract OTHER females as romantic interests.

    When we grow up, the men marry other women who don’t want us to have anything to do with their respective families. We are too socially weird, and thus loses even the male friends we once had (or thought we had). Because we are not as likely to marry, we attempt to support ourselves, but lose employment because we “don’t fit in”, and cannot follow the hidden channels expected for advancement. We are easily set up and lose jobs to more socially adept candidates. Even locating those willing to help is difficult, again, we don’t follow the “proper” albeit hidden rules for aid applications. Doctors decide we must be crazy, churches think we are “not a good example” for others, parents were often never there to begin with.

    More often even than autistic males, autistic females have isolation and poverty to look forward to, even when talents and skills are significantly better than those of their peers.

    And the older they get, the more society expects them to “know” what is expected of them socially. The better the autistic learns to compensate and approximate neurotypical behavior, the more is expected. There was some degree of acceptance when they were younger, but there is little acceptance for autistic adults, especially women.

    And researchers still don’t want to know our perspective. They still get their information second hand, and interpret it according to the neurotypical mind-set.

  2. Miilanna says:

    Neurotypicals have no idea what empathy looks like in autistics, so they assume we have none. The problem is that neurotypicals are unable to empathize with us, so they make all sorts of “knowing” statements about how we “think and feel” which are way off base. We empathize well with other like-minded individuals, just not with inconsistent and unpredictable neurotypicals that hide behind masks.

  3. Kalina says:

    I can not understand what is the difference between you an othetr”neurotypical” persons.I think you are much more normal then the others who identified themselves as normal!

  4. Kozmo Kliegl says:

    Supports that the “Extreme Male Brain Theory” has some holes in it.
    Another, more recent, “The Intense World Theory” disproves that autistic are devoid of Empathy and may actually have an overabundance instead. Some could cope by ‘blocking’ it, reinforcing the stereotype. In my (brain]case, have no idea how. Perhaps being a genetic male, now a Non-Binary Trans, is a factor

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