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Gender Differences in High-Functioning Autism

"It seems that there are more boys than girls with the high functioning version of autism. Is this true? If so, what accounts for the difference?"

Interestingly, different research studies list the ratio of males to females with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) as being anywhere from 4-10 to 4-1 (i.e., some research suggests that for every 4 males, there is 1 female).

Other studies suggest that the male population is much higher (8-10) relative to females. Obviously, much research is needed in this area.

As there is no known specific cause of autism as yet, researchers don’t know why there seems to be such a diagnostic difference between boys and girls.

A couple things could account for this difference:
1. There could be a hereditary or structural difference in boys that account for such a difference. There are other disorders associated mostly with boys (e.g., hemophilia) that have been found to be related to the genetic basis of the disease.

2. There could be a difference in the way society and therapists diagnose HFA in boys and girls. The behavioral expectations between boys and girls are such that boys are less likely than girls to be “diagnosed” with shyness - and could instead be diagnosed with a mild form of autism. Because the symptoms of HFA aren’t as readily diagnosable as some diseases, mistakes in diagnosis are very possible.

3. Girls with the disorder tend to be safeguarded and nurtured by their “neurotypical” friends who may assist them to deal with challenging interpersonal situations. 

4. Acceptance from peers can cover up many of the problems a girl on the autism spectrum has, so she isn’t recognized by parents, teachers, and other adults. Thus, they are not as likely to suggest psychological and social evaluations.

5. Females on the autism spectrum aren't usually aggressive once they get upset; instead, they tend to be withdrawn and may very easily "fly under the radar" in classrooms and other interpersonal situations (i.e., they often “shutdown” rather than “meltdown”).

As one lady with Asperger's stated: "I am a 50 year old female. My mother was told that I could not start kindergarten when I was 5 years old because I 'was not social enough'. I was held back, even though, at age 7, I was 'still not social enough'. Well, I didn't want to go over and initiate conversation and play tea with the other girls; I thought I was going to school to read BOOKS not socialize. Things haven't changed. After getting my Univ. of WA degree in American history at the age of 47, I was diagnosed at the time with Aspergers. What a relief as I suffered for decades and knew it wasn't 'just shyness'. Girls are 'quiet' sufferers and can frequently be suicidal when socializing is so important with girls and when getting jobs. I am glad I decided to go to college late in life; I had myself diagnosed and a thicker skin by then - I didn't care about social stuff when in college."

6. Females with the disorder can communicate their feelings in a calmer way as compared to their male counterparts.

As a side note, there have been several studies linking HFA and Asperger's in adults with gender identity disorder (i.e., a disorder where an individual feels like they are actually a member of the opposite gender they appear to be).

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