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Girls and Autism

Historically, autism was thought to be a condition of boys but in recent years there is more recognition of the prevalence of autism in girls. Girls usually present with more subtle traits, however still facing challenges to their development and interaction. Recently there has been a rise in the number of girls diagnosed with ASD and a growing awareness of the needs of autistic girls.

Autism looks different in girls. While autistic boys are often less social and present with obsessive interests and externalised behaviour, autistic girls are more able to mimic social behaviours, leading to their difficulties being masked and, therefore, undetected for much longer.

Autistic girls commonly have a high level of anxiety and try to manage our unpredictable and confusing world by exerting control over their environment, including the people in their lives. This can result in ritualised behaviour, inflexible routines and meltdowns when unplanned events occur, leading to difficulties at school and with friendships. Ultimately it can lead to them feeling unhappy and isolated.

Autistic girls can find it hard to read social situations as they often struggle to recognise which emotions are shown by facial expressions. Therefore they often find the way people respond to them confusing. They also often fail to adapt their language or behaviour to suit the social situation they are in leading to problems at school and in the community. Autistic girls often have special interests which, when they are young, can include age appropriate topics which in itself it not unusual. However, as other girls move on to other areas of interest, girls with autism often do not and this causes gaps in their social development compared with that of their peers. This often leads to them becoming increasingly socially isolated as areas of common ground disappear.

Sensory needs can complicate the needs of autistic girls further. Autistic girls may be particularly sensitive, or conversely have reduced sensitivity, to loud noises, bright lights or touch. For example, they may find tight clothes intolerable or may love to wear very tight clothes.