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Think autism is just a 'guy' thing; think again

Statistically speaking, autism is viewed as a condition that affects boys more than girls. The prevailing wisdom is that the ratio of autistic males to females is about three or four to one. But, there is a growing sentiment among some experts that the disorder is much more prevalent in girls than anybody has been willing to admit.

That autism is a real concern is not in question. Indeed, it is recognized by the government as a disorder that is worthy of Social Security disability benefits, if developmental and social interaction deficits in the child are appropriately documented and medically confirmed.

The big problem, according to some experts, is that the research into autism has been skewed toward males from the outset. As a result, they say, the defining characteristics for autism have come to be associated with behaviors that males tend to exhibit. In other words, while autism may affect boys and girls equally, girls use a different set of behaviors than boys, so their condition may tend to go undiagnosed  

According to one researcher, this may be exemplified in the general observation that autism sufferers lack imaginative thinking. That is not always the case in autistic girls. Another baseline observation that contributes to diagnoses of autism, repetitive and stereotyped behaviors, tends to be absent in females.

The implication of this gender blindness, this researcher says, is that females are less likely to be diagnosed, or more likely to be misdiagnosed. Either situation could result in an autistic girl not getting the kinds of medical or financial interventions and support they need or are entitled to.  

What effect these conclusions might have on research going forward is open to debate. Hopefully, though, the findings about gender differences now available will prompt medical professionals to expand their understanding of autism.

Source: Forbes.com, "'Wall Street' Actress Daryl Hannah Is An Autistic Woman," Emily Willingham, Sept. 29, 2013

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