The Complete Teacher


Why is autism under diagnosed in female students?

Posted by Caroline Smith on 21 January 2021 11:40 AM CAT
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Autism is gaining more awareness as a communication disorder in the world and amongst educators. However, despite a growing prevalence, there is still an under-representation of women who fall on the autism spectrum

What is autism?

Autism is a developmental disorder that is marked by two unusual kinds of behaviors: deficits in communication and social skills, and restricted or repetitive behaviors. Children with autism also often have sensory processing issues. The model we use for a classic autism diagnosis seems to be based on a male presentation of this behaviour.

More than 4 boys for every 1 girl is diagnosed on the autism spectrum, according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control. Researchers point to genetic differences. But there seems to be a more complex reason for the girls on the autism spectrum being missed. Clinicians and researchers have come to realize that many “higher functioning” autistic girls are simply missed. They’ve been termed the "lost girl" or "hiding in plain sight" because they’re overlooked or diagnosed late. They don’t fit the stereotypes or their symptoms are misinterpreted as something else. And they may be better at hiding the signs, at least when they’re young.

There are girls who fit autism's behavioural criteria. However, even when it does present classically, stereotypes may get in the way of recognition. Furthermore, autistic girls exhibit less repetitive and restricted behaviour than boys do. For example, girls are more likely to control their behavior in public, so their teachers don’t notice the differences. They may produce a smile in the right social situation, have better eye contact or they’re more socially motivated. 

What is the cost of a missed diagnosis? 

Girls struggling with undiagnosed autism often develop depression, anxiety or self-esteem issues, and clinicians do not investigate the social dysfunction that lies just below the surface. Many girls are misdiagnosed with ADHD, due to their difficulty concentrating and repetitive behaviours.

The cost of a missed diagnosised or misdiagnosis is of a serious disadvantage to them as it impinges their oppurtunity for intervention. The intervention is important in young girls receiving early support that facilitates skill building. When the girls are identified late, they have already missed out on a lot of social and academic interventions that are much harder later. 

How can you bring autism awareness into your classroom?

In order to ensure a fair and equitable academic and social career amongst your students, male and female, you can read up on autism awareness in its presentation and educate yourself on how to encompass learners on the spectrum in your classroom. This is a small but powerful way of bringing activism for different ways of thinking & using your mind into your classroom and school environment. 

Thereafter, it is important to take the issue further with the relevant people. The child's parents, the school board, and if possible the school's occupational therapist. It's important to remember that living with autism is possible. But more than that, it is equally possible to raise a happy child who is on the autism spectrum. It is not without its own set of difficulties, but awareness and education eases this plight. 

You can also use this as an oppurtunity to bring tolerance and awareness into your classroom. Social awareness is an important skill that is imparted by teachers to students, as they model their behaviour based on what they are shown. 

Have you had any experience teaching learners on the autism spectrum? Leave your comments below. They always generate an interesting dialogue. 

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