Disturbing Findings among Girls with Autism and ADHD Symptoms

More training is needed in the screening and diagnosis of autism and ADHD, according to Swedish researchers.

More training is needed in the screening and diagnosis of autism and ADHD, according to researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, who found that the symptoms of autism and ADHD in girls who seek professional medical help are often downplayed or misinterpreted, with a risk that the girls won’t receive needed help or support.

Publishing their results in the Journal of Attention Disorders, the researchers focused their study on 100 girls who visited a physician because of difficulties with social interactions or concentration at school and/or elsewhere before enter adulthood, and then were referred to the pediatric neuropsychiatric clinic at Sahlgrenska University Hospital from 1999—2001.

"We could see that their parents had been concerned about the girls' behaviour or development during their first few years of life," said Svenny Kopp, doctoral student, Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Sahlgrenska Academy, and consultant paediatric psychiatrist, Queen Silvia Children's Hospital. "They had also asked for help at an early stage, but hadn't been given a proper diagnosis."

Almost half of the 100 girls were found to have autism or another autism spectrum disorder (ASD) upon thorough psychiatric and psychological examination, and almost half of the 100 were given a main diagnosis of ADHD. When compared to a control group of 60 girls, performance in all studied psychological, motor, and social function areas was severely impaired among the 100 girls.

The research team also found that girls with autism and ADHD experience other psychiatric and developmental neurological disorders, including anxiety, depression, social behavior disorders, and difficulties reading and writing. Also, half of participants with ASD or ADHD were bullied, frequently truant, and avoided involvement in sports at school. Further, smoking had a higher prevalence and was done more frequently in girls with ADHD than in control group members.

"The results are particularly disturbing given that these girls did not generally have a disadvantaged social background and were mostly of normal intelligence," said Kopp. “It's a shame as we now have effective treatments for both autism and ADHD. We therefore need more training across the public sector on girls with mental problems, social interaction difficulties and/or attention problems."

Do you feel the same findings would be found in the US? What can psychiatrists and neurologists do to help pediatricians and family physicians better recognize the signs and symptoms of ADHD and autism? Or does the issue extend beyond primary care into practicing psychiatrists and neurologists who, arguably, should “know better?” Tell us what you think. Post a comment below.