While autism has become a more commonly diagnosed developmental disorder, autistic women and girls aren’t diagnosed nearly as often as their male counterparts. The main reason is that signs of autism in women and girls look different than they do for boys and society has different behavioral expectations for girls as opposed to boys. For example, a girl with autism who is limited in social communication may be misunderstood as just being shy.
When early signs of autism in girls aren’t discovered and treated timely, it can lead to other problems with low self-esteem, social isolation, impaired social skills, and other similar issues. In some cases, autism traits in girls are misdiagnosed as ADHD or simply misread as being very shy. [i]
Proper diagnosis and treatment of autistic women and girls is key to helping them improve their neurodevelopment. With proper support and intervention, they are more likely to lead a fuller and higher quality of life.
The Drake Institute uses advanced treatment technologies to create customized treatment protocols for girls with autism. We use brain map-guided neurofeedback and neurostimulation to help our ASD patients reduce symptoms and lead more functional lives.
For more information regarding our non-drug treatment protocols, call us at 800-700-4233 or fill out the contact form.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. Also known as ASD, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, autism is part of a group of similar disorders such as Asperger’s, PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder not otherwise specified), and childhood disintegration disorder. These conditions arise during childhood brain development.
There is no known cause of ASD, but genetic or environmental factors are thought to be involved. Autism is also typically considered a lifetime diagnosis; there is no cure for autism, but there are treatments that can address symptoms and improve development.
Autism has been thought to affect boys more than girls; they receive diagnoses about four times more often than girls. However, research indicates that girls are simply under or misdiagnosed. Signs of autism in women and girls often look different from men and boys. Not fitting the “autistic model” could make it more likely that girls are overlooked and fail to obtain a proper ASD diagnosis. [ii]
It’s impossible to know if you are autistic without a proper professional evaluation. However, there are a few characteristics common in autistic people that you should pay attention to.
Difficulties relating to people or empathizing are key traits of autism. Other communication-based traits include trouble initiating and/or sustaining reciprocal conversations.
Behavioral signs include self-stimulating actions. Often called “stimming,” this may involve touching specific textures or objects.
Below, we’ll discuss these and other symptoms of autism in women and girls.
There are no blood or other lab tests that can diagnose autism. Because it is a neurodevelopmental disorder, diagnosis relies on observation and comparison with same-age peers.
The first people to notice early signs of autism in girls will be her parents, childcare providers, and teachers. Developmental delays are important to evaluate to rule out or diagnose the presence of ASD.
If autism is suspected, ask your pediatrician for an autism screening. During this screening, they will ask questions about the patient’s communication, behavior, and other indicators. If the screening reveals that autism is likely, we suggest following up with a professional specializing in autism.[iii]
There are no female-specific symptoms of ASD. The DSM-5 uses the same diagnostic criteria for everyone, regardless of sex. However, certain signs of autism in girls are often overlooked or seen as typical behavior. Below is a list of several specific signs of autism in women and girls that could be part of an ASD diagnosis. [iv]
Social anxiety and introversion are common in women and girls with autism. It’s particularly difficult for autistic people to process and understand social cues, as well as engage in back-and-forth conversations. Autistic women may compensate by planning what to say in a conversation beforehand or making a list of appropriate responses to common greetings or questions.
Autistic patients can be hyper-sensitive to smell, sound, light, or touch. This extreme sensitivity can make daily activities very uncomfortable, especially when those activities require being in places where noise levels and odors cannot be controlled.
Even getting a haircut can be very uncomfortable for a younger autistic child with sensory sensitivities.
Behavioral symptoms could be caused by sensory sensitivity reactions.
Executive functioning consists of planning, organizing, time management, working memory, and efficient follow-through. Autistic girls with these symptoms may struggle to adapt to new situations or accomplish tasks for school or home. Emotional outbursts, poor self-care, and lack of organization can all result from poor executive functioning.
Having restricted or obsessive interests is a key symptom of autism in men and women. However, women tend to have a slightly wider range of interests than autistic men. In addition, autistic girls tend to have more typical interests for their age: gossip, celebrities, and other people-related topics are both more common in autistic girls and more “acceptable.”
Women, in general, “camouflage” more often than men. This means they learn how to act around peers to be seen as “normal.” Since women are naturally more inclined towards sociability, autistic women make a greater effort to mask their disorder to be accepted by peers. This can be seen in symptoms of high-functioning autism in females who don’t necessarily fit the mold of a typical autistic person. [v]
Sleep issues are not a core symptom of autism, but sleep disturbances can be seen in autistic patients. When the brain is dysregulated, it can affect sleep. Obtaining a qEEG brain map may help identify where and how the brain is dysregulated. Sleep issues can be directly addressed and helped with better sleep hygiene and treatment.
Making eye contact is difficult for many autistic patients, and it’s no different for women. However, with skilled camouflaging, this particular sign of autism in teenage girls, women, and children can sometimes be minimized with practice.
Within the human brain, the frontal cortex (responsible for logic and thinking) is connected to the amygdala (responsible for emotions) as part of the limbic system. In autistic patients, these network connections may be dysregulated, making self-regulation and impulse control extremely difficult. This can result in emotional over-reactivity, or “tantrums.”
These meltdowns or tantrums are often discounted as typical female overreaction or emotionality, further exacerbating the underdiagnosis problem in autistic women and girls.
Often referred to as “stimming,” self-stimulating behaviors are repetitive bodily actions, movements or verbal stimming. Common behaviors include rocking, tapping fingers, hand flapping, spinning, or repeating a word or phrase. Women engage in these behaviors, but female-specific stimming techniques may include picking at the skin, playing with hair, or pacing.
Anxiety and depression are not uncommon in patients with autism, but they are both more common in autistic women than in men. These types of mental health conditions often arise due to the pressures and challenges that patients face each day, where they are more vulnerable due to dysregulated brain functioning that prevents them from successfully meeting day-to-day challenges. Social communication, and fully understanding social cues and others' intentions can be most difficult for autistic girls and women, which may lead to anxiety and depression. [vi]
As we mentioned above, boys are diagnosed with autism more than girls at a rate of four to one. Recent research reveals that this is not necessarily because the prevalence of autism in girls is significantly lower than in boys, but because their symptoms may be misinterpreted as another disorder or misunderstood as just being shy.
Because of the myth that autism is a male disorder, symptoms of autism in girls and women are more likely to be diagnosed as a different disorder. Withdrawal from others or trouble paying attention is often misdiagnosed as exclusively the result of ADHD or depression, but they can overlap with ASD.
Studies have shown that girls are also likely to go undiagnosed because they are better at masking their symptoms by learning how to act and “fit in” with peers, which may delay a proper diagnosis. [vii] [viii]
Girls and women with untreated autism face unique risks and vulnerabilities associated with having ASD. In addition, because girls are less likely to be properly diagnosed, they’re more likely to develop comorbid disorders like depression, social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, low self-esteem, and more. These conditions can exacerbate autism symptoms and greatly reduce the quality of life.
Without a proper diagnosis, autistic women and girls can’t receive the assistance they need to be helped and have a better life. Untreated autistic girls and women have increased vulnerability because they can have difficulty reading others’ intentions, positive or negative, which makes them more susceptible to mocking, bullying and predatory behavior.
Autism Spectrum Disorder can be significantly improved with the correct treatment protocols. The Drake Institute uses advanced treatment technologies like brain map-guided neurofeedback, and neurostimulation to improve the symptoms of autism.
Treatments are non-drug and noninvasive, making them safe for children, teens, and adults. What’s more, these treatments address the underlying dysregulation of the brain linked to symptoms.
Below are the primary technologies that we use for our treatment protocols:
Brain mapping is a unique and important diagnostic step in developing the treatment process. To perform qEEG brain mapping, 19 sensors are placed around the scalp. These sensors record brainwave activity to identify any areas or networks in the brain that are dysregulated and linked to symptoms. Our Medical Director connects the QEEG brain map findings to what is happening with the patient in order to create the most specific, effective, and customized treatment protocol for their particular symptoms. Neurofeedback
With the completed brain map, treatment begins.
Our Medical Director creates specific and targeted neurofeedback protocols to help reduce the symptoms of autism. These treatment protocols guide brain activity to more functional patterns to reduce symptoms. In some patients, biomedical abnormalities may need to be ruled out, or identified and addressed to maximize improvement from neurofeedback.
In addition to neurofeedback, we may also use qEEG brain map-guided neurostimulation to gently stimulate the brain into healthier functional patterns to reduce symptoms. In our experience, some patients may benefit even more from neurofeedback if neurostimulation is also included in their treatment program. We have found this to be particularly helpful for lower-functioning patients on the Autism Spectrum.
For more information about how the Drake Institute can help treat symptoms of autism in women and girls, please fill out the consultation form or call us at 1-800-700-4233.
If you or a family member need help, please fill out our confidential online form
Interview with Dr. David Velkoff
Interview with Dr. David Velkoff
Spanish News Feature
“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Neurophysical Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Neurophysical Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Neurophysical Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”