Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders


Girls with Aspergers & High-Functioning Autism

"Are the symptoms of high functioning autism the same in males and females?"

Like ADHD, symptoms of Aspergers (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) are different in girls than boys. Consequently, more boys are referred for an AS or HFA assessment than girls; a ratio as high as 10:1 has been suggested. Despite that, epidemiological research suggests a ratio of 4:1 is more accurate, which means that there are potentially thousands of young girls with AS and HFA who never get diagnosed.

The primary differences between AS/HFA diagnoses in girls and boys seem to be caused by basic differences in the ways they express themselves. Aggressive behavior is more noticeable, and a youngster who is overly aggressive is more likely to be evaluated. Because girls have a greater ability to express their emotions, they're less likely to act out when they're upset, confused or overwhelmed. Without this behavioral "compass," the other aspects of AS and HFA are more likely to go unnoticed.

Another similarity between ADHD and AS/HFA in girls is that the symptoms are more passive in nature, which makes them more difficult to notice. Because the symptoms are milder, moms and dads are also more reluctant to bring their child in for a diagnosis.

Some experts speculate that one reason fewer girls are diagnosed is because their friends are more likely to help them cope in social situations, which is where AS and HFA symptoms are most readily identifiable. Nurturing is instinctive in girls, and so the peers of a young girl with AS or HFA will intuitively comfort her when she's upset, or guide her through social interactions. In contrast, boys tend to be more 'predatory' and therefore more likely to tease a boy with AS or HFA. Because a girl's peers do their best to help her, her parents and teachers may never see symptoms - or may not see them often enough - that would warrant a clinical diagnosis.

One of the key symptoms common between boys and girls is a hyper-focused interest one particular thing or topic. For boys, the special interests are often in areas of science or transportation (e.g., trains or airplanes). In girls, the focus is often on animals or classic literature. The interest in and of itself isn't unusual, but a youngster with AS or HFA will have an unusually intimate knowledge of his or her topic of interest. Young girls may play with dolls and have imaginary friends, which doesn't seem at all unusual. However, their interest in these things will continue even when they become older teenagers.

Because social situations are stressful and awkward for girls with AS and HFA, they often learn to mimic people who have stronger social skills. They may adopt someone else's mannerisms, facial expressions and even vocal intonations. Again, this is sometimes misinterpreted and may be misdiagnosed as a personality disorder.

Moms and dads should seek the advice of a trained medical professional if they suspect that their child has AS or HFA. Be sure to take note of the behaviors in question, including frequency and environment in which the behavior takes place. Because AS and HFA symptoms are so much more subtle in girls, parents should consult with someone who specializes in AS and HFA.

As with other behavioral or learning disabilities, kids with AS and HFA have specific educational rights. Moms and dads of a youngster who's been diagnosed with AS or HFA should familiarize themselves with the school district's policy about things like specialized learning plans. Often, a young girl with AS or HFA just needs a little extra attention to keep her on track toward reaching her academic and personal potential.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

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