Friday, January 25, 2008

Girls With Autism and the Struggle for a Diagnosis

The official title of the ABC News Nightline report is "'Underdiagnosed' Girls With Autism Struggle to Fit In: Some Researchers Say Girls Can Mask Symptoms of Autism." For this revealing segment on autism, Reporter John Donovan profiled eight-year Kaede Sakai.

A brief synopsis: Kaede has two brothers on the spectrum, but her parents had difficulty getting a diagnosis for their daughter. During an interview, Kaede's mom Kristi said, "The early intervention people would not recognize the things that I was seeing even though they were identical behaviors as the boys."

Researcher Brenda Myles was interviewed for this segment. She was credited with being " one of the lead researchers specializing in the quite narrow field of girls with autism."

"It's more appropriate, if you will, for a boy to have a tantrum and major meltdown than a girl," Myles said. Kaede's mom agreed that society views girls differently than boys in terms of tantrums. "People roll their eyes and say 'drama queen,' even me," said Kristi Sakai.

As for Kaede, she is getting lessons from a special education teacher on how to make friends. Still, as the narrator points out "While her teacher takes her diagnosis seriously and understands the challenges she faces, not everyone in her regular elementary school does."

My thoughts: While most people probably paid more attention to the "struggle to fit in" part of the headline, I identified to the second part. As a female with a past of social difficulty, I do not quite fit the classic profile of autism but I do have some sensory issues and problems with receptive speech that I can mask most of the time. I am still unsure if I could be viewed as an individual with autism, but I certainly understand how girls can be overlooked in terms of a diagnosis.

It's a no-brainer that boys and girls are different. Why shouldn't the signs of autism be exhibited in girls and boys differently? I've felt for a long time that there was something wrong with the statistic that only one in four or five children with autism are girls. Hopefully, as the results of studies from researchers like Myles, someone will develop gender specific diagnostic criteria that could be used to diagnose young females.

Kudos to Brenda Myles for conducting research on girls with autism. I hope that her work will help a lot of girls and their parents receive the services they need.

P.S. The Nightline story inspired some heartening responses from women with autism. It may be worth your while to go to the online story and check out the comment section.


Casdok said...

Like you i hope their work will help girls and parents.
Good post.

J said...


Alex Blaken said...

To the best of my knowledge i know that Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior.
Can it be caused by agents that cause birth defects

Julie L. said...

Good question, Alex. The cause is unknown. There are a lot of theories out there including one that supposes that autism is caused by environmental agents.

You seem to have a pretty good undertanding of autism. Another characterization is difficulty with sensory processing. This varies amongst individuals. For example, my child has a problem with loud sounds such as sirens. They sound a lot louder to him than a person who is not on the autism spectrum.