Is autism different in girls than in boys?
Autism is no different in girls than it is in boys. However, it can sometimes look different or be less noticeable. This is not always the case: there are also girls that exhibit more noticeable signs of autism. On the other hand, there are also boys with less noticeable autism.
Why is it that autism is sometimes less noticeable in girls?
- Girls with autism often show social interest and motivation. For example, because they make proper eye contact and use gestures and facial expressions in the right way. Characteristics of autism in their interactions are more noticeable in smaller ways. For example, by them being very controlling, following, free or, on the other hand, by them being reserved/anxious.
- Girls often appear to pretend play, but on close inspection this often turns out to involve imitation or ordering (without changing things up). This could possibly fit with autism.
- Girls with autism often have strong interests in 'normal' girl topics. For example, in animals, drawing, princesses or the colour pink. This makes it less noticeable that these are very strong interests (which may point to autism).
- Girls can be highly adaptable. Especially in other environments than at home. Struggling with changes and transitions (characteristic of autism) is therefore less noticeable. They can, for instance, often adapt well at school, causing the school not to experience problems. This adaptive behaviour takes a lot of energy, which can cause them to let off steam at home in the form of temper tantrums or fatigue.
- The environment is less attentive to autism traits in girls. We do not think of autism as quickly when it comes to girls. When girls do not make eye contact, for example, we are more likely to think of shyness than of autism.
Note: gender is not the only factor that affects how autism manifests itself. Intelligence and age, for example, are also relevant. As already mentioned, there are boys whose autism is less noticeable and there are certainly girls who present a clearer picture of autism. Less noticeable autism is often seen in girls and boys with average or higher intelligence levels and good language skills.
What happens if autism is less noticeable?
When autism is less noticeable in a child, it is often not recognised until later. As a result, these children do not receive the help they need until later. Often resulting in additional problems. Because the fact that autism is less noticeable in them, does not mean that they (and their parents) experience fewer problems. In addition to the direct problems that autism can cause, they also suffer from indirect problems. Think of:
- lack of understanding from the environment (there is less to see from the outside, after all)
- overestimation (the environment expects too much from the child).
And that in turn can cause more problems.