Expert from Cleveland clinic children's explains why girls are often diagnosed with autism later than boys

Child psychiatrist from a top American hospital discusses the results of a new study and offers pointers on how to spot autism at an early age

  
Dr Ahuja Veena

Dr Ahuja Veena

CLEVELAND: According to the World Health Organization, about one in every 160 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Now, a recent study published in Autism Research - the journal of the International Society for Autism Research - shows, on average, girls are typically diagnosed with autism about a year and half later than boys.

Veena Ahuja, M.D., a child psychiatrist at a top American pediatric hospital, Cleveland Clinic Children’s, who did not take part in the study, said girls are likely diagnosed later because autism traits are often more subtle for them.

“When boys come in, often the complaint is that they’re not able to sit in their seat; they’re wandering away, they’re doing things that are, kind of, in people’s faces where you realize it more,” she said. “Girls are definitely more likely to be able to blend in a little bit more, until they get to an older age where you start to realize that they’re not interacting as much as their peers.”

Dr. Ahuja said that often when kids are on the mild end of the autism spectrum, the signs and symptoms do not start to become noticeable until elementary school.

She said one way to investigate is to see if a child is able to talk about their feelings.

“By the time they hit elementary school, a kid should be able to talk about their emotions, or thoughts,” said Dr. Ahuja. “Most kids should be able to describe even more abstract things. However, kids that are on the spectrum, including girls, will have a harder time with that. So, if you ask them how they’re feeling, they don’t know how to describe what they’re feeling inside.”

Dr. Ahuja said many parents may suspect their child is on the spectrum, but do not bring them in for an evaluation because they are fearful.

She assures parents that autism is not something to be ashamed of, and when a diagnosis is made, it just makes it easier for a child to receive the help they need.

Because the brain develops at a very young age, Dr. Ahuja says early intervention is key for therapies to be effective.

Even if a child is diagnosed well into their school years, she said it is still important to get the appropriate services that will help them down the line.

“What we know about autism is that early intervention is key,” said Dr. Ahuja. “The earlier we can get somebody in there to help the child, the better they’re going to do in the long term. We also know that a lot of the stigma around autism is definitely going away as kids get older.”

Complete results of the study can be found in Autism Research.

-Ends-

About Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S. News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best hospitals in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. Among Cleveland Clinic’s 67,554 employees worldwide are more than 4,520 salaried physicians and researchers, and 17,000 registered nurses and advanced practice providers, representing 140 medical specialties and subspecialties. Cleveland Clinic is a 6,026-bed health system that includes a 165-acre main campus near downtown Cleveland, 18 hospitals, more than 220 outpatient facilities, and locations in southeast Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Toronto, Canada; Abu Dhabi, UAE; and London, England. In 2019, there were 9.8 million total outpatient visits, 309,000 hospital admissions and observations, and 255,000 surgical cases throughout Cleveland Clinic’s health system. Patients came for treatment from every state and 185 countries. Visit us at clevelandclinic.org. Follow us at twitter.com/CCforMedia and twitter.com/ClevelandClinic. News and resources available at newsroom.clevelandclinic.org.

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