Why are researchers missing signs of autism in girls?

Published by: The World
Host: Todd Zwillich

One in every 68 children born in the United States is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Boys are supposedly four times more likely to have the condition, but clinicians often miss or overlook symptoms in girls, who are frequently on the less disabling end of the spectrum.

Since the disorder seems to appear more often in male subjects, the criteria for diagnosing the disorder is almost entirely developed from the study of boys. But a group of researchers recently launched a major study of autism in women and girls.

Emily Brooks was diagnosed on the spectrum as an adult. As a person who identifies as queer and non-binary, she fears that studying girls and boys separately not only ignores gender diversity, but perpetuates gender stereotypes.

“There’s been a myth that autism only exists in boys, or that it’s biologically more common for boys and men to be autistic than girls and women,” Brooks says. “Some of the larger organizations kind of perpetuate this myth by having [campaigns] like ‘Light it Up Blue,’ with blue representing four times more boys than girls being on the spectrum. I think as a culture we just kind of got caught in the idea that being autistic is a male thing, when really, it’s just another way of being human.”

Brooks, a graduate student in disability studies at the City University of New York and a journalist who writes about gender, sex, and autism, has experienced this gender bias first hand.

“Somebody told me about this research study for adults on the autism spectrum and asked me if I wanted to participate,” she says. “When I looked into it, they said it was only for men — they say that they have fewer women [on the autism spectrum], so they want it to be statistically significant.” Click here to read the rest of the story.

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