Posted by Soribel Martínez, LCSW
Autism has long been considered more of a boys’ issue than one of girls. And while it is most likely true that boys are more prone to have autism than girls are, it’s important to remember that some girls have the disorder.
In fact, it can be very easy to miss the symptoms of autism in girls. This is because they are typically different from autism’s symptoms in boys. Because of this, many researchers and therapists are wondering if the rate of autism in girls is actually higher than documented.
As a result, it’s very important to understand what autism symptoms in girls can look like. This knowledge can help you seek evaluations and help sooner rather than later.
Autism in girls can seem more nuanced. While they may seem to have some idiosyncrasies, these typically aren’t as disruptive to their life as what boys experience. And autism in girls can often be misdiagnosed as ADHD or a mood disorder.
Evaluators become accustomed to looking for those autistic symptoms that they are most familiar with, which are those of boys. This makes it easy to dismiss or overlook manifestations of autism in girls.
Especially in the elementary years, autistic girls are better able to “fit in” and function than their male counterparts. This is another reason for delayed diagnosis.
Similar to boys, autistic girls develop very obsessive, restricted interests. But their passions can be harder to identify as driven by autistic roots.
Autistic girls often become obsessive about what seems like stereotypical female interests for their age. Because they don’t necessarily develop a restricted focus on what autistic boys are drawn to, this also makes it easier to dismiss their symptoms.
While many of their female classmates share the same interests, girls with autism will dive much deeper into all the related and tangentially related aspects. If she’s really into a certain line of toys, she’ll not only collect all of them but also memorize facts and information that other girls don’t care about. She’ll talk incessantly about this interest alone.
We often think of boys with autism of as being disruptive and loud. But autistic girls are often seen as just having shy, quiet, and passive personalities.
This is because their uncertainty about social cues and behavior causes them to fade into the background. When they’re younger, more outgoing peers may enjoy taking the lead for them. So a girl with autism can rely upon peers to help her navigate these situations, at least for a time. This is another reason for delayed diagnoses.
Girls with autism are not immune to the sensory difficulties that autistic boys also face. They may have strong negative reactions to loud noises, some food textures and tastes, the feeling of clothes on their skin, and other sensory input.
Many children have these reactions, though, so it can add to the difficulty of diagnosing girls.
Strong Emotions and Moods
Therapists and researchers have also found that girls with autism often struggle with mood regulation. They can become easily frustrated and aren’t afraid to show it. Calming down is a challenge.
Likewise, sadness and depression can be very real problems. They may seem unusually moody when compared to other girls.
Researchers are also making a connection between seizure disorders and autism in girls. In fact, girls with autism are more likely to have concurrent seizure disorders than their male peers do.
You may be trying to make sense of the behaviors and moods that you notice in your daughter. It’s important to know that an experienced therapist can help you put the pieces together and find a way forward. Please call my office to learn more.
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Soribel Martinez, LCSW, CEO of SMPsychotherapy