25 Feb


by Lirio S. Covey

About three to four times more males than females receive the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Why that is so has been unclear. What has been frequently noted is that girls receive an ASD diagnosis later in life, often in adulthood, instead of the common detection time of ASD during the years up to 8 years of age.

A behavioral phenomenon labelled as “social camouflaging” is becoming understood as explaining in part the larger autism ratio of boys to girls. It is a social strategy engaged in more typically by females than males with autism, enabling the latter to seem to fit better in their social environments at school or at work. It can also be referred to as a dissonance between what’s going on emotionally in the inside and what appears on the outside.

Social camouflaging occurs when the person recognizes her/himself to be engaging in behaviors considered unusual or unacceptable, and responds to this awareness by forcing him/herself to stop doing those behaviors, making adjustments to refrain from such acting out telling autistic behaviors. Like the comforting behaviors of stimming, fidgeting, or other repetitive behaviors, which are among the hallmarks of autism.

This inhibition of natural inclinations, which requires self-awareness and great effort can be physically and mentally exhausting. The frequent psychological costs are – not feeling understood by others and by their own selves, anxiety, and depression.

Contributing to the problem of a possible under-rating of ASD in females is that existing instruments for diagnosing autism are oriented towards identifying autistic traits usually found among males. Many autistic traits among females have yet to be well identified and understood. This under-diagnosis partly explains why diagnosis later in life occurs more frequently in girls, leading to less and later access to relevant social supports and other therapeutic aides.

Social camouflaging and the costs of autism are discussed further in the linked article and in the peer-reviewed article referenced below.

Hull L, Petrides, KV, Allison C, Smith P, et al. “Putting on My Best Normal Social Camouflaging in Adults with Autism Spectrum Conditions, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, August 2017, Volume 47, Issue 8, pp 2519–2534.

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