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FND and Autism in Teenage Girls: Characteristics and Diagnosis Challenges

Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are two distinct conditions that manifest uniquely in people. However, research and clinical observations have increasingly pointed to a noticeable overlap, especially among pre-teen and teenage girls. Understanding the shared characteristics and the interplay between these conditions can aid in better diagnosis and support for those affected.

Shared Characteristics of FND and Autism

FND, a condition where individuals experience neurological symptoms that aren’t traced back to traditional neurological diseases, shares several behavioral and emotional traits with autism, particularly in the way sensory inputs are processed and responded to. Common symptoms include difficulty with motor functions, such as walking, talking, small motor skills challenges and tremors. Similarly, autism involves challenges in social communication and interactions, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior or interests.

For pre-teen and teenage girls, the combination of these symptoms can often complicate diagnosis and treatment. Both disorders can manifest through heightened sensory sensitivity, leading to sensory overload and sometimes, physical manifestations similar to those seen in FND. Additionally, the cognitive and emotional regulation difficulties seen in autism can sometimes present in ways that resemble the psychological symptoms linked with FND, such as sudden outbursts or episodes of seeming unresponsiveness that are often misinterpreted or overlooked.

The Complication of Masking in Autistic Girls

One of the critical aspects of autism in girls is the tendency to "mask" their symptoms. Masking involves the conscious or unconscious suppression of natural autistic behaviors to conform to social norms or to blend in with peers. This behavior is particularly prevalent in girls due to social pressures and expectations around conformity and sociability.

Masking can significantly complicate the recognition of autism in girls, making it harder for educators, parents, and even health professionals to recognize underlying issues. As a result, many autistic girls may not receive the diagnosis or support they need until much later, often when investigating other issues such as FND.

Overlap and Implications for Diagnosis and Treatment

The overlap of symptoms in FND and autism, especially the more subtle or easily masked symptoms typical in girls, suggests a need for a more nuanced approach to diagnosis and treatment. It is crucial for healthcare providers to consider both possibilities when a pre-teen or teenage girl presents symptoms typical of either condition. A thorough assessment that includes a detailed developmental history and an understanding of her social behavior across different settings can provide valuable insights.

Moreover, awareness and education about these conditions need to be improved among educators and parents. An informed support system can better recognize the early signs of both FND and autism, advocate for appropriate medical evaluation, and provide interventions that address the unique needs of these young individuals.

Final Thoughts

The combination of FND and autism in pre-teen and teenage girls demonstrates the complexities of diagnosing and treating neurological and developmental disorders. Recognizing the shared characteristics and the prevalence of masking in autistic girls is essential for timely and effective intervention. With increased awareness and a multidisciplinary approach, it is possible to offer better support and improve outcomes for these young individuals, enabling them to navigate their challenges with greater confidence and understanding.

Dr. Kawthar Hameed Abdullah is an experienced educational psychologist and special education specialist with over 25 years of dedicated work supporting children with disabilities in both the United States and Oman.


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