Not Just for Boys: When Autism Spectrum Disorders Affect Girls

Is autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in girls underdiagnosed?

An autism diagnosis is relatively rare in girls; Asperger's is even rarer. Boys outnumber girls with autism by 4 to 1; in "high functioning autism" and Asperger's, the gender ratio is estimated to be 10 to 1.1

Photo of girl with a fanFor years autism was seen as primarily a male disorder, certainly not the only developmental disorder to affect more boys than girls. But some researchers are asking whether girls with ASD are going undiagnosed, especially those at the high-functioning end of the spectrum like June's daughter?

Do girls simply do a better job masking their symptoms? Are their symptoms being missed by diagnostic tools that may be better suited to boys? As researcher John N. Constantino M.D. put it, are doctors looking at girls through "boy-colored glasses"?

One psychologist said girls are being under-diagnosed. "Girl can slip under the radar. Their autism looks different," said Shana Nichols Ph.D., whose practice in New York includes girls like June's daughter who are often diagnosed later than their male counterparts.

"There is a prototypical profile of autism which is primarily based on male autism, "said Dr. Nichols, author of Girls Growing Up on the Autism Spectrum. "All the research up until recently has been based on a male prototype."

There is less research on girls because there are fewer girls with the diagnosis. In an oft-quoted interview in 2007, Ami Klin Ph.D., director of the Yale Autism Program, said that girls with autism were "research orphans."2

A "male" condition, or a gender bias?