Gender and Autism


The types of words autistic boys and girls use can alter their diagnoses.

She’s bright and creative. And 11-year-old Caroline is autistic, which is challenging when she’s trying to fit in with other pre-teens in middle school.

Caroline Robb said, “I used to run around by myself on the playground.

I didn’t really get to talk to a lot of people. I kind of sat out a lot.”

She uses ‘feeling’ words to describe her situation, and that’s what differentiates her from autistic boys. They usually only use concrete words.

Julia Parish-Morris, Ph.D., Scientist, Center for Autism Research at Chop said, “Girls with autism will tend to kind of hover near social groups out on the playground.

And, I think that kind of behavior, the hovering near, can make it complicated for people when they’re looking for autism.”

Even Caroline’s parents who had her diagnosed at four, first noticed behavioral, rather than language, differences.

Elizabeth Robb, Caroline’s mother said, “It definitely was not a language that took us there. It was behaviors, body movements and learning things.”

“When you separate out the kids with autism into boys and girls, the girls with autism actually talked a lot more like the typical kids than the boys,” said Doctor Parish-Morris

But here’s what to listen for in boys and girls: Fewer emotional phrases like ‘i feel,’ or ‘she thinks.’ more concrete words and kids who are laser-focused on only one subject.

Doctor Parish-Morris said, “It’s not universal to all girls, neither is it exclusionary of all boys, but to really pay attention to the other more subtle things that might be showing up in girls and young children that have autism.”

More research needs to be done to determine exactly why boys are diagnosed so much more often than girls. But experts think linguistics hold major clues.

Doctor Parish-Morris says ideally, she’d like to see society become inclusive of autistic people no matter their language style.

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