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Asperger's in women significantly under-diagnosed

The past 20 years have seen a seven-fold increase in cases of the autism spectrum disorder diagnosed in girls and women in Finland.

 Asperger-diagnoosin saanut Anne istuu puiston penkilllä.
Image: Seppo Samuli / Lehtikuva
Yle News

More and more people in Finland are being diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a developmental disorder. While women's cases have increased seven-fold in the past two decades, diagnoses among boys and men have tripled, according to the Finnish institute for health and welfare (THL).

In the past five years, some 4,600 people in Finland have received diagnoses for Asperger's. A third of these cases were among females, suggesting that women's autism spectrum disorders have been significantly under-diagnosed.

Mika Gissler, a research professor at the THL, said increased awareness of the condition has contributed to the surge in cases.

Today, more people in the public eye are also talking about living with the condition, including teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, tech entrepreneur Elon Musk and actor Anthony Hopkins.

The country's autism association, Autism Finland, said parents who suspect their children are on the spectrum are also increasingly reaching out to the organisation.

Asperger's symptoms include difficulties communicating and interacting in social situations, repetitive patterns of behavior and a fixation on specific interests. Symptoms, however, vary by sex, with girls often having better social skills than boys.

"Girls are often able to mask the typical symptoms. They can learn to play a certain role in different situations. These roles can be based on the behaviour of the most popular girl in the class or a TV character," Gissler explained.

He also said that the interests of Asperger's girls are generally more in line with those of typically developing girls, leading adults to be more likely to miss autistic symptoms.

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