Last week, I stumbled across this article on the #womenslives asking why researchers miss the signs of autism in girls. It’s primary focus is on the gender bias towards boys in the study of autism. While that is a huge problem, when it comes to identification, it goes far beyond that.
When it comes to autism, the adherence to the idea that kids generally behave in a certain way according to their gender, heavily influences diagnosis.
For instance, the classic signs of eye avoidance and “getting lost in their own world” are often seen as shyness in girls. Since girls are generally encouraged to be quiet, clean and sedentary, signs like these are ignored, even if they are indicative of a need for help.
In boys, however, these signs could be spotted early, since boys are encouraged to be loud, dirty and active. If a boy is none of these things, those signals may be seen as a call for help.
As kids get older, and they aren’t given access to the therapy they may need, they naturally find ways to cope. Although they may be struggling terribly, no one else can tell, because they hide their fight so well.
This also ignores the transgender and nonbinary population, as well, which makes their struggles with determining their personal identity even harder.
Changes in Diagnostic Criteria
I spoke with a young woman a while ago who works as a psychologist about autism a while ago. I hadn’t thought of it before that conversation, but when the latest DSM came out, new qualifications were determined for an autism diagnosis.
Things that were once seen as a part of the normal spectrum were reclassified as part of the autism spectrum. That broadens the pool of people who now qualify for the label, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when they’re things that cause struggle.
Fundamental Lack of Education
As with dyslexia, a lot of the problem comes down to a lack of education on the educator’s parts. This is not a fault with the teachers, but one with the system in which they work. How can someone learn if they don’t have access to good information?
The way the system is set up makes early identification and effective accommodation incredibly difficult. Large classroom sizes, rigid test requirements and other factors all play into the issues at hand.
Even when a kid has an IEP, parents face an ongoing fight with the school district to get it adequately enforced. When a child is having unrelated trouble or misidentified in the first place, the IEP may not do much good in the first place.
The only way the general problem can be solved is through common sense restructuring. Unfortunately, that’s far more easily said than done. Work is being done in various areas of the neurodivergent/disability communities, but many of us fear it won’t help if there’s no unity.
As with many things, I feel like there’s an over reliance on labels. Labels in general can be helpful, but not when the individual person is reduced to whatever demographic happens to be at issue.
Too often, a person’s individuality is lost in the name of simplifying complicated issues, and that is the core of the problem.