Is autism in females being overlooked?

Current figures are suggesting a huge gender disparity in the prevalence of autism with some studies even placing the rate of autism at 16:1 with the far higher rate presenting itself in males.

But according to the latest research from the UK, these figures may largely be incorrect with the ratio in reality being closer to 3:1. So what’s really going on here?

With autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affecting approximately 1 in 160 children according to the World Health Organisation, autistic girls and women may often go undiagnosed because doctors, teachers and even parents often think of the condition as primarily affecting boys, the British National Autistic Society has stated. Research published in Nature revealed there has been a threefold increase during the last three decades in the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders worldwide.

Parents with daughters on the spectrum will often reveal how difficult it was to get a proper diagnosis for their daughters, while many autistic women did not receive diagnoses until adulthood, the BBC reported.

However, there is increasing research indicating that autism presents differently in girls and therefore often goes unrecognised, especially in verbally fluent girls with standard intelligence. Girls with autism also appear to be better at ‘camouflaging’ their symptoms in order to fit in.

With the diagnostic criteria for ASD based largely in how autism presents in males, girls can often ‘slip under the radar’ or get misdiagnosed. Girls with ASD seem to have less restricted and repetitive behaviours than boys, but it’s also possible that some of these behaviours go unrecognised — for example, an obsessive interest in collecting dolls may be misinterpreted as pretend play, according to the BBC report.

Clearly, more research in the area is needed from a female perspective. It is important to note that there is a growing awareness of the issue that females are being misdiagnosed medically, or simply not as efficiently or effectively, as most testing has been conducted from a male point of view, according to this interesting article.

However, currently there are no specific treatments available for autism and interventions are focusing on reducing disruptive behaviours, training and teaching self-help skills for a greater independence.

Recently, CBD enriched cannabis (the non-psychoactive compound that does not produce the high found in THC) has been shown to be an effective treatment for a variety of autism-related symptoms including seizures, tics, depression, restlessness and rage attacks for patients under the age of 18. An Israeli study revealed that more than 80% of parents reported significant or moderate improvement in their child receiving cannabidiol oil.

But this is still in the early stages of research and there is much hope that an effective treatment will be discovered soon.

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