ADVENTIST LA GRANGE MEMORIAL HOSPITAL: Why Autism in Girls Is Often Missed Until Adulthood
Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital issued the following announcement on April 17.
While the needs of those with an autism spectrum disorder are better understood than ever before, many of the struggles that people on the spectrum face are caused by the biases of people around them. This is perhaps most true for girls and women with autism.
As the Medical Director of Autism for the AMITA Health Behavioral Medicine Institute, I have frequently seen how girls with autism fly under the diagnostic radar until after they've reached adulthood. While such women might be “functional” in that they have a job and can sustain themselves, they may deal with mental struggles that could hinder them personally and professionally.
Why We Miss Autism in Girls
Boys are about four times more likely to have autism, but many girls are not diagnosed as children despite demonstrating several symptoms. If you’re a woman who has ever asked herself, “Am I autistic?”, you might be on to something. Think of your childhood and consider these medical and social reasons why we miss autism in girls.
They Aren’t “Squeaky Wheels”
Boys with autism tend to be a lot more visible, especially when they reach adolescence and their systems are flooded with testosterone. They sometimes act out in aggressive or inappropriately sexual ways that demand immediate attention. Meanwhile, girls with autism could be experiencing the same kind of stress and sensory overload without drawing as much attention to themselves.
They Stick to Female Social Norms
It’s unfortunate but true that many of the “feminine” values our society prizes mirror how autism expresses itself in women. Because many autistic people like routines and order, autistic girls might thrive in rules-based environments. Being quiet, not asking questions and keeping to herself can all be seen as admirable, or at least acceptable, traits in a girl or a woman. That can blind people to the pain she might be feeling.
They Have Biased Healthcare Practitioners
Even if she is brought to a medical professional, biases can stand in the way of a young woman with undiagnosed autism. Autism is commonly thought of as a male disorder, and that is an obstacle that we as physicians are trying to change. In truth, women do not receive the same level of care as men do across the board, and the failure of healthcare practitioners to diagnose autism in women and girls is an extension of that disparity.
They Face Intersectional Challenges
These challenges are often magnified for women of color. Consider a quiet young lady at a Chicago public school. Many times, no one is going to notice or care if she doesn’t have friends or if she struggles to relate with people. While the adults in her life and her fellow students deal with more visible challenges, she can be struggling with a mental health condition that causes her to avoid attention. This puts her at greater risk of slipping past a possible diagnosis.
Diagnosing Autism in Adult Women
Autism spectrum disorders are genetic conditions, so it is not unusual for one or both parents of an autistic child to also demonstrate symptoms of the condition. I once saw a case where it was clear that the mother of my patient, a child with autism, was also struggling with an autism spectrum disorder. She was struggling to bond with her child, and that only exacerbated his challenges. I can’t help but wonder how much easier her and her family’s lives might have been if she had been diagnosed when she was younger.
If you are an adult woman who has just been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, or if you think you might benefit from neuropsychological testing to learn more, approach your neuropsychological health as you would any medical illness. If you thought you had heart disease or diabetes, you’d reach out to the professionals. This is no different.
Find a therapist. Get a screening. A psychiatrist or a family medicine doctor could prescribe a solution for symptomatic relief. After accidental injury, suicide is the leading cause of death for young people everywhere, but the rate of completed suicide and self-injury is much lower in individuals who have sought treatment. It’s true of the general population and it’s true of the autistic population as well.
As a psychiatrist who treats autism, I find it frustrating that people cannot see the pain that their autistic peers are experiencing. It is a silent epidemic, but at AMITA Health we are actively cultivating a more robust mental health program to help our patients get the support they need.
If your daughter, son or loved one is showing these signs of autism spectrum disorder, the Behavioral Medicine Institute’s Autism Spectrum & Developmental Disorders Resource Center gives you a one-stop center for help. Call 855.MyAMITA (692.6482) to schedule an appointment today.
Original source can be found here.
Source: Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital