Autistic girls “flying under the radar” of diagnosis

Girls with autism are “flying under the radar” of diagnosis because they’re better at “camouflaging” autistic traits, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by the University of Southampton, highlights the current imbalance in diagnosis rates between males and females, which currently stands at a rate of around four to one.

According to the report, this doesn’t mean that boys are four times more likely to have autism than girls. Instead, girls are simply better at hiding typical autistic traits than boys, and as a result, are much less likely to be diagnosed.

Known as “camouflaging”, the researchers explain that girls are more adept at hiding their autistics traits “in order to fit in” – a behaviour that could see them “dodging a diagnosis and failing to get the help they need”.

To confirm this theory, the researchers analysed a set of boys and girls known to have autism. This includes assessing “social reciprocal behaviour”, such as taking turns, following someone else’s initiative, and being flexible.

It was found that autistic girls showed more advanced “social presentation” than boys, despite both sexes having similar levels of autistic traits.

Commenting on the research, author Dr Henry Wood-Downie said: “We need to raise awareness of camouflaging in general, in terms of educating school staff, GPs and other practitioners, because there seems to be a lot of autistic females flying under the radar as things currently stand.

“And we want to raise this awareness so that girls who need it can access support at the earliest stage possible – because early intervention is usually key in promoting positive outcomes.”

He added: “In general, early intervention is a good thing, and later intervention is usually associated with poorer developmental outcomes. If there are female individuals who are struggling, it’s best to recognise this earlier in order to put appropriate support in place for those who need it.”

According to the latest statistics, autism affects around one in every 100 people, meaning there are around 700,000 individuals on the autism spectrum in the UK.

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