Autism and girls on the Spectrum.

This inspiring video is made by some of the girls at Limpsfield School in Surrey, talking about what it is like to have Asperger’s Syndrome.

The subject of autism and girls on the spectrum is a subject that is very close to my heart.

On the journey towards a diagnosis for my daughter, I have spent many, many hours reading everything I could get my hands on about girls on the spectrum. The links below are some of the best that I found, all gathered in one place as a helpful guide.

Girls show many different characteristics to boys when it comes to ASC’s. Only 1 girl is diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition for every 4 boys who get diagnosed.

No one is sure if this skewed ratio is because of a ‘protective effect’, where girls are less likely to develop autism than boys, but when they do they are more severely affected. More information and research on that theory can be found here at Sfari (Simons Foundation Autism Research Inititative).

Girls vs Boys on the Spectum

Girls vs Boys on the Spectum

Another theory is that Leo Kanner and Hans Apergers original investigations centered on boys, so most research since has been carried out involving boys on the spectrum while historically, girls have been largely ignored in research. It may be that in fact, the ratio is closer to 2:1. More information and research about girls on the spectrum is being discovered more regularly now, as the differing presentation of girls is more widely recognised.

This article from the National Autistic Society by Dr Judith Gould and Dr Jacqui Ashton Smith comprehensively covers the main differences between male and females on the spectrum. Here’s an excerpt:

  • Girls are more able to follow social actions by delayed imitation because they observe other children and copy them, perhaps masking the symptoms of Asperger syndrome (Attwood, 2007).
  • Girls are often more aware of and feel a need to interact socially. They are involved in social play, but are often led by their peers rather than initiating social contact. Girls are more socially inclined and many have one special friend.
  • In our society, girls are expected to be social in their communication. Girls on the spectrum do not ‘do social chit chat’ or make ‘meaningless’ comments in order to facilitate social communication. The idea of a social hierarchy and how one communicates with people of different status can be problematic and get girls into trouble with teachers.
  • Evidence suggests that girls have better imagination and more pretend play (Knickmeyer et al, 2008). Many have a very rich and elaborate fantasy world with imaginary friends. Girls escape into fiction, and some live in another world with, for example, fairies and witches.
  • The interests of girls on the spectrum are very often similar to those of other girls – animals, horses, classical literature – and therefore are not seen as unusual. It is not the special interests that differentiate them from their peers but it is the quality and intensity of these interests. Many obsessively watch soap operas and have an intense interest in celebrities.

The presence of repetitive behaviour and special interests is part of the diagnostic criteria for an autism spectrum disorder. This is a crucial area in which the male stereotype of autism has clouded the issue in diagnosing girls and women.

Dr Temple Grandin is, perhaps, the most famous woman with Autism in the world. She has written many books, is a professional speaker on the subject of autism and cattle handling. She currently works as a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and is an inspiration to many people.

To talk about autism and girls on the spectrum and not mention Carly Fleischmann would simply be wrong. Carly is a beautiful young woman who has autism. Carly was diagnosed with severe autism when she was two. Doctors thought that she would never be able to talk, but she is slowly but surely finding her voice. At the age of ten, she had a breakthrough and reached over to type on a laptop ‘Help teeth hurt’. That was the beginning of her self-realisation.

Carly has written a book with her Dad called ‘Carly’s Voice’, which I cant wait to read.

Here are some more links to articles which i have found to be very useful reading. Please let us know if you have any other good articles about girls on the spectrum and I will add them to this list.

This table shows some Female Asperger Syndrome Traits and some of the main Male/Female differences from Rudy Simone’s Blog, Help4Aspergers.com

This article from SEN magazine called ‘Is Autism Different for Girls?’

And this one from Special Needs Jungle – Autism in Pink: Helping to identify undiagnosed girls with ASD.

Tania Marshall, Author of ‘I Am Aspien Girl’, has written a ‘working screener’ list about the first signs of Asperger Symptoms in Pre-School Girls.

Tony Attwood is a world-renowned expert about autism and girls on the spectrum. He contributed to the book ‘Aspergers and Girls’ along with Temple Grandin. Here is one of his articles entitled Girls and Women who have Aspergers Syndrome.

Boys with Asperger’s are often referred to as ‘Little Professors’, but Girls are known more as ‘Little Philosophers’ because of their tendency to think a lot. This is a great article about girls on the spectrum from the ‘Your Little Professor’ website.

Here’s a blog from ‘My Aspergers Child’ about the Female Version of Aspergers

Here is a great article about The Sexual Politics of Autism , another about creating a female profile for autism. And a really sensible point of view about how to label the male/female criteria from Paddy-Joe at Askpergers.com

Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think.

Helen