THERE ARE MANY MORE BOYS DIAGNOSED WITH AUTISM THEN GIRLS. DOES THIS MEAN THAT AUTISM IS
MORE PRONE IN BOYS OR COULD IT SIMPLY BE THAT DUE TO GIRLS DISPLAYING TRAITS OF AUTISM SO DIFFERENTLY THEY ARE OFTEN NOT DIAGNOSED?
The current diagnosis process is still heavily weighted on the typical autistic behaviours that are usually displayed by boys. During the ADOS assessment (part of the diagnosis process) my daughter was able to mimic the correct responses that would be socially acceptable. An ADOS assessment is designed to test the young persons reactions to various situations. There are books with obscure animals in such as flying frogs and part of the assessment involves a pause in activities, as well as talking about different objects and trying to use them for a different purpose.
Fortunately a very experienced clinical psychologist was leading my daughters ADOS assesment and could see that she was trying very hard to model correct and wanted behaviour. The psychologist decided she would spend a day in school following my daughter to see the quality of her interactions in daily life. The report that followed was truly heart breaking to read. It was observed that in a complete school day my daughter had only spoken on three occasions and this was due to being asked a question outright from an adult. She did not once try to make any kind of communication with her peers. It was also noted that she was constantly observing those around her to collect the social cues needed to know what was expected of her.
This is why girls are often reported as being model pupils at school yet home life is the total opposite. Home life has to deal with the delayed effect. Think of a coke bottle that has slowly been shaken all day. Then as soon as that coke bottle is in the safe environment where no mask is needed off comes the lid and cokes goes everywhere affecting everything in its path.
How are girls traits different to boys?
Often girls do not have the same level of language delays as boys so very early warning signs are easily missed.
Girls tend not to have early interests in mechanical things such as wheels, turning a car on it’s back to watch the wheels spin. However my daughter loved her toy cogs and would sit for hours watching them go round. It was only during the diagnosis process that I connected this type of play with repetitive actions. To me and other family members she just loved this particular toy.
Girls tend to have obsessions that are socially acceptable and not as obscure, for example a young boy who can tell you everything about different farming tractors maybe flagged as a child to watch but a girl who can name every Disney princess, the film they feature in and which colour dress she has is not seen as a concern.
Aggression and disruptive behaviour is something that is not typically seen in young girls with autism although this can develop after the age of 8 as social interactions become more complex between peers. This behaviour is usually as a result of frustration and will tend to be displayed more in the home environment, as the need to be a model pupil is still high.
Sensory wise girls can be very sensitive to environmental factors such as loud noise or bright light, they may also have sensory issues around clothing although these are also easier for a girl to hide. Whereas a boy who likes to wear shorts all year will be noticed, a girl can wear a dress all year round without drawing attention to herself.
Some girls with autism can seem to be very emotional and quick to cry, anxiety being a huge factor of this, again a girl who is quick to cry in school can be overlooked and thought of as being emotional. What you are really seeing is total mental exhaustion as the child has used up all their energy trying so hard to blend in and do the right thing.
Girls on the autistic spectrum need support to navigate this confusing world just as much as the boys do. They may not need the same level of social skills training but what they do need is support to manage anxieties and support to take care of their mental health. The pressure they place on themselves to be perfect in every way is suffocating. As with everything I believe that early intervention is the key, helping girls to manage their anxieties and set reasonable expectations of themselves.
I hope you have found this interesting.