Characteristics of Asperger's Syndrome in Girls: Gender Differences and Diagnostic Challenges

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Asperger’s Syndrome and Gender Differences

Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder that is characterized by obsessive interests, awkward communication skills, and difficulty with social cues, is more often diagnosed in men and young boys. The symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome in women and female children are usually displayed in a more subtle manner, which results in missed or incorrect professional diagnoses, a lack of access to special education services and provisions in school, and a greater chance of social and emotional problems in adulthood. Several distinct differences exist in regard to the ways that girls and boys with Asperger’s behave.

Girls who have Asperger’s syndrome are not often aggressive when they get frustrated; rather, they tend to be withdrawn and can easily “fly under the radar” in classrooms and other social environments. Female children with this high-functioning autism spectrum disorder are also able to express their emotions in a calmer way than their male counterparts.

Girls with Asperger’s are often protected and nurtured by their neurotypical friends, who help them cope with difficult social situations. Acceptance from peers can sometimes mask the issues that these girls have so that they are not recognized by teachers and parents. As a result, adults are less likely to suggest psychological and social evaluations for girls who have Asperger’s syndrome.

Diagnosing Girls With Asperger’s Syndrome

There are certain personality traits and symptoms that parents, teachers, and professionals can look for if they suspect that a young girl or woman may have Asperger’s syndrome. Girls with the disorder often display obsessive tendencies in regard to animals, dolls, and other female-oriented interests. While neurotypical girls will play with dolls by pretending that they are interacting socially, Asperger’s girls may collect dolls and not use them to engage socially with other girls. Their fascination with certain subjects can lead to them lagging behind their peers in terms of maturity and age-appropriate behavior: for example, a pre-teen with Asperger’s syndrome may be fascinated with stuffed animals or cartoons long after other girls their age have outgrown these things.

Girls who have Asperger’s syndrome may be mistakenly assumed to have a personality disorder because they mimic typical children but use phrases inappropriately. They tend to be bored with people their age and have difficulty empathizing with their friends' worries or problems. While their behaviors are more passive than those typical of boys with Asperger’s disorder, adults who pay close attention to girls with social and emotional delays can ensure that proper diagnosis and treatment will take place. The younger a girl is when she begins to receive the appropriate speech, occupational, and psychological services for Asperger’s children, the greater likelihood she will have of living an independent and functional adult life. As with other autism spectrum disorders, Asperger’s syndrome in women is most successfully addressed through consistent professional support.