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Autism in girls detected by behavioral problems

Emotional and behavioral problems help in diagnosing autism in girls. This is the finding of research conducted by PhD student Jorieke Duvekot of Erasmus MC and Yulius.

meisje met sproetjesThe results of the study, headed by Dr. Kirstin Greaves-Lord, head of the joint Autism research program of Erasmus MC's department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry/Psychology, were published in the scientific journal Autism in the past week.

Different than boys
All too often girls are not diagnosed with autism, even though they do have various symptoms. The symptoms experienced are expressed slightly differently in girls than in boys. The study has shown that girls who have emotional and behavioral problems in addition to general autistic traits are more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls without these problems. Emotional and behavioral problems are less important in diagnosing autism in boys.

For the study, Dr. Kirstin Greaves-Lord collaborated with Yulius (Center for mental health care) and six GGZ institutions (Dutch Association of Mental Health and Addiction Care). More than a thousand children, aged between 2.5 and 10 years, who had been registered for autism were screened. Despite the fact that the same percentage of boys and girls received a high risk score for autism based on the screening questionnaire, boys were diagnosed with autism more than twice as often as girls.

Greater burden
Social and communication problems, limited interests and difficulty in dealing with changes are characteristic of autism. "Because girls are generally more sensitive to social expectations than boys, they can experience not being able to keep up socially as a greater burden," explains Greaves-Lord. "Trying to fit in and masking their limitations, can be very tiring. This can lead to anxiety, depression, anger or physical symptoms. So actually it is too late, the damage has been done."
This is why the researchers express their concerns about underdiagnosis in girls adn recommend to be more aware of gender differences in autism. 

Read the full press release.

Date published: 16 December 2016.

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