Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) manifests as a variety of symptoms that can vary in severity from one child to the next. This often includes include difficulties with social skills and communication skills. The complications of ASD can also make it hard for children to make friendships and maintain positive relationships. It’s also worth bearing in mind that ASD can often occur with other comorbidities and conditions like ADHD, and digestive issues.
In recent years a growing body of research has started to explore the differences in ASD traits in males versus females with autism. While there are some similarities between both males and females with autism spectrum disorder, there are also some modest differences in how the symptoms manifest in boys and girls.
ASD Is More Common In Males Than Females
Statistically, autism spectrum disorder is more common in males than in females. The American Psychiatric Association notes that confirmed diagnosis is 4 times more likely in male children than in females.
One counterpoint to this statistic suggests that this could be related to the way ASD is diagnosed. Though it seems more likely that male children do indeed experience autism more often than females.
Is There A Difference In ASD Symptoms Between Boys and Girls?
Early research into the symptomatic difference in ASD in males versus females has returned some interesting early results.
It might also be possible that female children mask their symptoms more effectively than males. This might be related to societal conditioning. It might also be that females have a more natural way of interacting with others which can further hide autistic traits. Whereas young males are less likely to control their behavior, which makes it easier to identify their symptoms early on.
At the same time, females tend to have a greater ability to learn to imitate their peers to try to fit into social settings. This could further obscure the early manifestation of ASD traits. However, a lot of females with ASD have more noticeable behaviors. The research studies also found that many females with ASD are quiet and reserved therefore others don’t notice them much.
How ASD Impacts IQ
A lot of positive diagnosis for ASD in females is often due to behavioral issues or developmental delays. Whereas females with higher IQs are often undiagnosed. At the same time, females with high IQ, who don’t show behavioral issues, often don’t stand out, and the parents are less likely to seek early screening.
A lot of these females who have average or above-average IQ use their intelligence to manage their symptoms innates. In these cases, they need to be observed and assessed in their surroundings to identify nuanced symptoms. These females with ASD might also learn the process of how to imitate others even if it doesn’t align with their true nature. Thus further masking early signs and diagnosis.
Female children also tend to learn to get through life by putting in extra effort to manage day-to-day responsibilities, social interactions, and other nuanced behaviors. Male children don’t always have these same skills, and might not be as encouraged to develop them, which makes it harder for males with ASD to mask their symptoms.
How ASD Affects Social Behaviors
A lot of females with ASD will still engage in activities that aren’t socially challenging to other people or that don’t make them stand out. This might even manifest as things like a special interest in reading or doing academic activities. So, if that female child made it through early childhood screening without detection, this love of reading and academic participation might not appear as an out-of-place behavior to teachers or parents.
Many girls with ASD might simply be thought of as being a little “Shy” or introverted which is often more acceptable in many cultures. Whereas society has a general view of males being more likely to be extroverted, aggressive, and social. This makes their behavioral abnormalities more noticeable to parents and teachers.
How ASD Affects Motor Skill Development Communication Skills in Boys & Girls
Continuing research into the symptomatic differences in ASD found some differences in children between 17 to 37 months. It found that toddler-aged females tended to have more motor skill deficits, but fewer communication skill deficits compared to the same age range of boys.
Other research studies also found that girls tended to use more of a “Cognitive Process” using words such as “Think” and “Know” compared to boys of the same age. Also, girls and boys who were positively diagnosed with ASD tended to use more nouns than non-autistic peers when trying to describe a specific story.
The Presence Of Repetitive or Restrictive Behaviors
New research in this field seems to suggest that females display repetitive and restricted behaviors with less frequency than males of the same age. Known as “RRBs” this is a common symptom of ASD in younger children.
Though this could also be a social perception, as girls who have a repetitive behavior of lining items up or organizing toy items, might just look like she is playing. Though, under close observation, a trained therapist might notice that she is not similarly playing with the toys as other girls of the same age.
The Importance Of Early Childhood Screening
Most school districts and communities in the United States have some form of early childhood screening. These are basic tests that evaluate motor skills, listening skills, mental development, and behavior. They are conducted by highly trained specialists with the skills to identify the early manifestation of autism spectrum disorder in boys and girls.
It’s also an opportunity to catch any other learning impairments your child might have before they start school. So, your child can receive the help they need.
If you have any areas of concern with your child, you should feel free to bring them up to the screening professional. That way they can give your child the increased scrutiny necessary to see if they need to be referred to a specialist to start the process of confirming or ruling out ASD.
With early intervention, many children with autism spectrum disorder can go on to enjoy a high quality of life and reach important developmental milestones.