Current Diagnostic Procedures May Be Failing to Detect Autism in Girls

Current diagnostic procedures may overlook subtle symptoms of ASD in girls.

Medical experts in the field of autism have recently stated that current tests that are used to diagnose individuals with autism are failing to detect the disorder in females. With a huge imbalance in the number of males being diagnosed in comparison to females, certain symptoms may be going undetected with current testing. As a result, these medical experts are calling for some significant changes in the testing procedure.

Dr. Lori Ernsperger, psychologist who specializes in working with females on the autism spectrum, firmly believes that the imbalance between diagnoses of males and females is due to flaws in the current diagnostic questionnaire. In addition, medical experts state that subtle symptoms are often being dismissed by clinicians, or they often go completely undetected.

Daunta Bulhak-Paterson, psychologist, states that many subtleties are overlooked, as professionals are often looking for the obvious signs that a child may have autism. Dr. Bulhak-Paterson states, “I think they’re looking for more severe characteristics in the clinical interview. They’re seeing the girl as being polite, smiling, giving eye contact, and they just dismiss it.” The female stereotype of having a demure, polite persona often prevents clinicians from truly analyzing the female’s behavioral and social abilities and deficits. Furthermore, Dr. Bulhak-Paterson believes there are health professionals who still refuse to acknowledge that autism presents itself differently in women in comparison to men.

Dr. Ernsperger chooses to focus on the challenge of diagnosing girls, as she firmly believes that the current diagnostic questionnaires focus on male characteristics of the disorder. Dr. Ernsperger states, “That doctor is going to have a diagnostic checklist… it may have 20 questions or so, but they’re the sort of questions that lend themselves to male behaviour.” As a result, a questionnaire should be adapted to focus on some female characteristics.

She adds, “Instead of rewriting these testing tools for autism, we should have different scoring levels. A boy would have to score 18/20 where the girl would have to score 16/20 in order to move on to the secondary testing for further diagnosis,” she said.

Many women have failed to be diagnosed with autism until much later in life, and some still go undiagnosed. Many have been able to mask several of their symptoms and find great success in life, but still struggle in other areas, such as forming social relationships. Getting diagnosed is critical, as it enables the individual to get a better understanding of their own emotions and any anxiety they may be facing. Early intervention enables the individual to receive the attention and therapies they may need to live a happy, fulfilling life.

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