Autism – The Missed Diagnosis In Girls


The Law Of… Spotting The Signs Of Autism

What would you do if you discovered that your daughter is showing symptoms that are commonly associated with autism spectrum disorder?

Samantha Hale, Associate in Education Law and Community Care, explains how to spot the symptoms of autism in girls and what support can be put in place for them.

What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism spectrum disorder refers to various conditions that can affect the way a child, young person or adult interacts socially, communicates with others, and their general interests and behaviour.

As autism is a spectrum disorder, this means that there's various symptoms associated with different forms of it. ASD also includes Asperger's syndrome.

It's A Myth That Autism Affects Boys More Than Girls

Statistics on autism have tended to show that it affects boys 4 times more than girls, but research has revealed that gender doesn't necessarily play such a big part in ASD. 

So, why are fewer girls with autism being identified and diagnosed?

The answer might lie in the difference in how boys and girls act. Girls tend to be better at concealing problems or challenges they have, making it difficult to spot symptoms of autism according to research by Gould and Ashton-Smith (2011).

This might then explain why girls who have subtler symptoms aren't diagnosed quickly or until they're much older, and why statistics suggest boys are more likely to have ASD.

11 Common Symptoms Of Autism In Girls

Generally, if your daughter shows more than one of these symptoms over a period of time it is worth looking into whether or not she has ASD:

  • Copying the behaviour of others – girls are generally better at copying the behaviour of others, which masks their symptoms.
  • Relying on other children to speak for her – this is usually other girls of the same age. She might also avoid making small talk and starting conversations with others, and have trouble understanding how to vary her communication with different people.
  • Having intense interests in specific things, even if they're the same as that of other girls of the same age – this could include being obsessive about a TV show and fixating on the characters or actors, but not really knowing what the storyline is.
  • Living in the world of imagination – inventing fictional worlds and imaginary friends is something most children love to do, but girls who display symptoms of autism tend to have trouble separating this from reality.
  • Being sensitive to loud noises or bright lights.
  • Restricting conversation to topics that interest her – she might share her thoughts, but it's likely that she won't be interested in hearing the views of someone else.
  • Struggling to hide her frustration – she might react in ways that aren't necessarily appropriate for her age, such as throwing tantrums or biting, kicking or pinching.
  • Being more likely to experience mental health issues – this includes anxiety, depression or having a hard time controlling her mood.
  • Being described as very quiet, shy or passive in most social situations.
  • Finding social interaction more difficult when she becomes a teenager.

How Is Autism Diagnosed In Children?

If your daughter consistently displays these symptoms, you could:

  • Speak to your GP, or health visitor if your child is very young – it's also a good idea to explain which symptoms or behaviours your daughter is showing as this could help with a diagnosis
  • Have a screening interview (known as M-CHAT) if your daughter is around pre-school age – this would be carried out by your health visitor or GP and will give you an insight on whether your daughter has autism (rather than giving a diagnosis)

If the doctor or health visitor believe that your daughter is showing signs of ASD, she should then be referred for a formal diagnosis.

It's important that a multi-disciplinary assessment is done by a team of experts as part of the diagnosis process. This involves different types of professionals, such as speech therapists and psychologists, assessing your child. Their feedback would then be used to make an overall diagnosis.

If you're unhappy with the outcome of the assessment, you can ask for a second opinion or pay for a private assessment.

What Support Can My Daughter's School Offer For Her Autism?

Once your daughter is diagnosed with autism, you can speak to her school about putting the right support in place for her needs.

SEN Support For Autism

SEN support is extra educational support your child's school can offer for her SEND without having an EHCP. The school's Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) is the person responsible for identifying what support would be appropriate and then ensuring this is provided for your daughter.

If you and the school agree that this is a good option, the SENCO should assess what support your daughter needs and may arrange a meeting with you where you discuss:

  • The type of support that would be best for your daughter's special educational needs
  • The outcomes of the support – for example, what effect it will have on your daughter's progress
  • A set date on which your daughter's support and progress will be reviewed

Once a plan for support is agreed, the school should put the support in place.

EHCPs For Autism

If you believe your daughter needs more support than her school can offer, you could ask them to request an Education, Health and Care Needs Assessment (EHCNA) from your Local Authority (LA). If they agree to do an assessment they will then consider whether they should issue an EHCP.

EHCPs provide specific support for your child's education, health and social care needs and are available up until the age of 25. Alternatively, you can ask your LA for an EHCNA and you can do this without involving the school if you would prefer to do this.

Once your LA has received a request it will decide whether or not to do an assessment and it has to let you know its decision within 6 weeks. If the LA refuses to carry out an assessment, then it must inform you of your right to appeal this decision.

As part of the assessment, your LA will collect as much information as possible about your daughter's needs – this could include getting advice from different experts like psychologists or health care professionals.

Your LA will then decide whether your daughter will be given an EHCP, and if it decides not to issue an EHCP then it must inform you of this as well as your right to appeal.

If your LA agrees to give your daughter an EHCP then it must send you a draft first and provide you with 15 days to provide it with your comments on the contents of this as well as your preference of a school place. If you are not happy with the content of the education needs or provision and/or the placement named, you can appeal against this once the final EHCP is issued.

Here's what you can do if your daughter has autism and your Local Authority refuses to provide her with an EHCP.

How Can Simpson Millar's Education Team Help Me?

Getting support for your child's needs shouldn't be an uphill battle. We often come across families who have spent years trying to get support for their child.

If your LA has refused to carry out an EHCNA or issue your daughter with an EHCP, our Education Law specialists can guide you through the appeals process. We've helped countless families get successful results.

If your daughter has an EHCP and it's not up to date, contains mistakes or your LA has missed out crucial information, we can assist you through the appeals process.  

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