Why Is Autism Underdiagnosed in Modern Society?

Why Is Autism Underdiagnosed in Modern Society?

Approximately 75 million people are currently living with autism spectrum disorder according to recent reports. This figure has been surging for quite some time. In fact, it’s 10 times higher than only 20 years ago. Despite this uptick, though, many people who have ASD may not have been diagnosed with it thus far. It’s a highly underdiagnosed condition, leaving many people to suffer its symptoms without the help they need. Several factors have led to this development.

Extreme Diversity

One of the main reasons for the underdiagnosis of autism is its extensive diversity. Autism isn’t the same from one person to the next; its symptoms and effects can vary greatly. That means physicians have a wide range of symptoms and severity levels to sort through when determining whether a patient is on the spectrum.

Furthermore, the symptoms of autism often mimic those of other mental and developmental disorders. For example, diagnosing Sensory Processing Disorder vs. Autism can be challenging because signs of the two conditions are similar. All that makes distinguishing the symptoms of autism exceedingly difficult. In people who only exhibit mild symptoms of autism or who suffer from multiple disorders, it can be even more challenging.

Limited Diagnostic Criteria

Another factor is limited diagnostic criteria. In general, most of the defined traits of the disorder and the tests used to diagnose autism are based on male patients. Female patients don’t always exhibit the same signs and symptoms of autism as males. As such, the tests could be considered biased. That has resulted in fewer females being accurately diagnosed. Some experts may argue against this point, but others believe that it plays a definitive role in the current underdiagnosis rates.

Availability of Resources

In some areas, a lack of access to diagnostic resources and experts on autism could be a factor. At this point, the entire medical field is experiencing a significant shortage of professionals, and it’s hitting some areas harder than others. That extends to the necessary tools and personnel for recognizing, diagnosing, and treating autism. This uneven distribution of resources could certainly play into the underdiagnosis of the disorder.

Societal and Cultural Factors

Additionally, societal and cultural factors may be fueling the issue. Even today with autism being so common, there are significant stereotypes surrounding the condition. Common public perceptions of ASD apply to extreme cases in which people suffer from noticeable sensory sensitivities and inabilities to communicate verbally. As a result, milder cases often go overlooked.

In terms of cultural aspects, many cultures view mental disorders quite differently than people in the United States. Some may simply fail to recognize the signs of autism. They may view them as learning disabilities, personality quirks, and other traits rather than elements of ASD. That, of course, prevents people from being tested for and diagnosed with autism. In some instances, a certain stigma surrounds mental health disorders as well. Fear of being ostracized may deter some families from having their children tested and treated for ASD.

Bridging the Gap in ASD

Limited diagnostic criteria and availability of resources are contributing to the underdiagnosis of autism. ASD’s vast range of symptoms and severity levels coupled with the many conditions that cause similar symptoms are partially responsible as well. On top of those factors, societal and cultural stereotypes, stigma, and lack of awareness also play a role. Bridging the gap will require addressing all those elements to help ensure everyone who lives with autism receives the necessary support to manage it.