PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — A Phoenix school said it is seeing too many girls getting delayed help for autism because doctors missed the signs or misdiagnosed them. "It's really stupid that girls don't get diagnosed with autism because then you don't know what's wrong, and you don't know why you can't focus, and teachers just think that's an excuse for not doing something," said 12-year-old Kira Manzer.
While it took doctors 11 years to figure out Kira had autism, her little brother got the same diagnosis at 2 and a half years old. "There needs to be more studies done with females and autism, absolutely, just to be able to point it out as soon as boys are diagnosed," said Kira's mom, Amber Manzer. "If it's not, there's going to be girls that are going to go years and years and years, creating unhealthy coping mechanisms that are only going to cause depression and issues later on in life."
Amber said girls often mask their autism by mimicking friends, movies and TV shows. "That's one of the reasons why anything they may have that is different, that could get them picked on, singled out. They hide that because it's not safe for them," said Amber.
Gateway Academy is a school for kids with high-functioning autism. Executive director Robin Sweet said masking often leads to a delayed diagnosis. "That's sad because they're at a disadvantage because they're not getting the speech and the language and the sensory and supports in the academic environment that they need to really excel," said Sweet.
Sweet said parents can look for signs of autism, like avoiding eye contact, sensory issues and difficulty having conversations. "It's important to get early intervention, which helps them in the long run for the outcome," said Sweet.
If you suspect your child could have autism, Sweet recommends talking to their pediatrician. For Kira, a diagnosis meant finding new ways to thrive in school, and that's something she believes every girl deserves. "Having autism means not that you're broken, but your brain is a little rewired and different than other people," said Kira.