Number of girls and women with the condition in the UK may be vastly underestimated, leading neuroscientist says
Prof Francesca Happé, director of the Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry Centre at King’s College London.
 Prof Francesca Happé. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Hundreds of thousands of girls and women with autism are going undiagnosed due to it being viewed as a “male condition”, according to one of the UK’s leading neuroscientists.

Prof Francesca Happé, director of the Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry Centre at King’s College London, warned that the failure to recognise autism in girls and women was taking a stark toll on their mental health.

“We’ve overlooked autism in women and girls and I think there’s a real gender equality issue here,” she said. “I think we are missing large numbers and misdiagnosing them too.”

American video explains some differences between male and female symptoms

Until recently, autism without intellectual impairments, sometimes called Asperger syndrome, was thought to predominantly affect boys and men, at a ratio of 10 to every one woman.

The NHS estimates there are about 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK, based on a roughly 10:1 gender ratio. If the real ratio were shown to be 3:1, this would suggest that up to 200,000 girls and women with autism have been omitted from the national tally.

Carol Povey, director of the National Autistic Society’s Centre for Autism, said there was growing recognition of the issue, with a steady increase in referrals of women and girls to specialist diagnostic centres during the past few years.

Difficult to be diagnosticated because the different ways autism can manifest in women and girls

“Recent research suggests that the number of males and females on the autism spectrum is far more equal than previously thought and diagnostic statistics suggest,” she said. “The problem is that professionals often don’t understand the different ways autism can manifest in women and girls, with many going through their lives without a diagnosis and an understanding of why they feel different.” (The Guardian, 

In our opinion, this British experience should be informed to Autism associations all over the world. It is a relevant bioethics issue and a way to help eventual undiagnosed autistic females.


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