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Girls and Autism: Recognizing the Often Overlooked

Many people know what autism is, at least in some capacity. But did you know that autism for girls can look different than it does for boys?

Autism research has heavily focused on boys, so the information out there isn’t always well-balanced for both genders. Overlooking signs isn’t uncommon. In fact, healthcare providers may miss an autism diagnosis in girls due to a lack of typical traits. 

Autism Traits for Girls

Just like any other diagnosis or illness, no single trait defines autism. No single symptom is always present among all people with the diagnosis. Sex and gender shouldn’t play a role in receiving a diagnosis.

The reality is that when it comes to autism, girls may not demonstrate the “classic” traits that boys generally do. More often than not, girls learn the art of masking their traits to overcompensate for them and appear more “normal.”

More Common Traits for Girls

Girls may rely on other children to do their communicating. They may be very passionate, but only about a limited list of things. This passion can appear obsessive about one topic (i.e., an actress, a character, props on a show, etc.), but it is only a small part of the whole picture.

Having limited interests means conversations may also be limited, making it difficult to form bonds with others. They may be very invested in their own response but then show little interest in that of another.

More Subtle Traits for Girls

Girls with autism tend to have difficulty reading nonverbal or social cues. They don’t easily connect with their peers. They tend to have a harder time keeping friends they do make.

The language challenge of autistic children is often interpreted as being quiet or shy. They are more passive and inactive in situations. Autism, for some people, makes them more assertive due to the lack of understanding of social cues, but for girls, it’s the opposite. Being passive is more acceptable for them. 

photo of a teen girl sitting on her bad looking at her laptopThe Challenges Faced by Girls

One of the more significant challenges girls face compared to boys is that they’re more likely to have a typical intelligence level and normal language skills for their age. Boys are more likely to have motor skill deficits and delayed language skills.

Girls are also typically more socially aware and can interact (i.e., make eye contact and use gestures). They are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or sensory processing issues. 

Why are Autistic Girls Going Undiagnosed?

Some girls will have typical traits like self-stimming or language issues. For those, they will likely be referred to professional services.

Not fitting the standard mold of what autism is believed to be poses an extra challenge for many girls. Not receiving or understanding the resources available automatically puts them at a disadvantage. Without having the needed support, they may not learn of their diagnosis nor how to manage it.

Since symptoms and traits aren’t usually typical, girls are less often screened. Social norms and stigmas also play into the misdiagnoses. Girls are expected to be quieter and less assertive than their male counterparts. Those subtle traits are assumed to be standard behavior for the age rather than a red flag. The less disruptive behaviors are simply not as noticed. 

What Can Be Done?

Education on what autism looks like for both boys and girls is a necessary start to improving the diagnosis rates. Girls need to be provided with resources and opportunities to receive help. Early diagnosis needs to become a priority to improve outcomes.

Girls with autism have strengths and unique abilities that allow them to excel in certain areas. If you’d like to learn more about your options and resources, contact us for a consultation for therapy for teens.