HEALTH: 5 ways autistic girls present differently to boys

24 April 2016
Reading time3 mins

With reports recently highlighting how differently girls can present with autism to boys, what are the signs we should be looking out for?

As a mother of four daughters, two of whom are autistic, I have been able to observe the differences in the ways girls on the spectrum present compared to their male counterparts, and I definitely notice contrasts with my autistic daughters compared to my autistic husband.

This is not to say, however, that boys who are autistic do not display these traits, but the following reasons are often major contributors as to why girls struggle to get a diagnosis, and can fly under the radar with their neurological differences.

1. They can be really social

It’s a common myth that people who are autistic do not enjoy the company of others, as this often may not be the case, especially in females. Autism can present in a way that individuals are often overly friendly, and struggle to maintain or understand appropriate social boundaries, or enjoy the company of others a great deal, but tire from it afterwards and need time to recover.

2. They can be epic mimics

Girls who are autistic are incredible at masking their social struggles, and how they do this is by copying and mimicking the behaviour of their peers. Unless you are close to them therefore, it isn’t always apparent that hey are struggling, and is a big reason why they often endure in silence.

3. They don’t often meltdown at daycare/kindergarten/school

A key attribute to the autistic female stereotype is the common habit of ‘holding it all together’, and then melting down at home. This can happen literally as soon as the child is in the car at the end of a kindergarten or school day, and rarely ever happens anywhere else. I make the point here that it’s important to differentiate between meltdowns and tantrums. Tantrums are emotionally triggered. Meltdowns are sensory triggered.

4. They can be empathetic

Another common myth surrounding autism, especially relating to females, is that people who are autistic do not feel empathy. In reality, this is so often not the case. Feeling so very deeply is a common thread.

5. They can have a well-developed imagination

One of the other key defining factors in girls on the spectrum is their fondness for disappearing off into their self-created worlds, where they will happily play independently and at length. Finding immense contentment and enjoyment amongst favourite small toys and role-playing extensively with household objects may provide avenues for self-expression and control that are not readily available in daily life.

With these things in mind, if you believe your daughter is displaying some autistic traits, it is worthwhile accessing a proper diagnostic assessment from your developmental paediatrican. Speaking from someone who wishes she had hesitated less and acted earlier, neurodiversity is not something to be feared, but rather something that should be embraced.

Do you have an autistic daughter? How did you find out?

For more autism information, check out life on the autism spectrum, the latest way to help your autistic child and how Minecraft can benefits kids with autism.

Written by

Jessica Offer

Jessica is the owner and freelance writer at GirlTribe. She lives on the Sunshine Coast with her wonderful husband and four spirited daughters – two of which who have autism (along with her husband), and two who don’t. Jessica loves getting free therapy at the beach, eating salted caramel chocolate, cooking and yoga-ing. Jessica is a pretty straight shooter and says it how it is because she believes life is hectic and chaotic enough without having to muck about with words. Find Jess on Facebook or Instagram @girl.tribe

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  • Guest - Ruth
    Thank you so much for your insight into girls with austism. I had to fight hard to have my daughter diagnosed. She has an incredible imagination which she often uses to escape the presures of fitting in. She has never had a meltdown at school only at home. People have trouble recognising autism in my daughter because she is such a good mimic and presents as 'normal'. To all parents of girls with autism don't give up the fight. Keep going to pediatrician until they listen. My daughter was finally diagnosed at 8 years old.
  • Guest - GirlTribe In reply to: Guest - Ruth
    Hi Ruth. I can totally relate to your frustrations at getting your daughter support with diagnosis. I felt exactly the same, thats why I think it is so important to educate and raise awareness around girls and Autism.
  • Guest - Chris
    "Tantrums are emotionally triggered. Meltdowns are sensory triggered." It's a sweet article, but where does this quote come from? Can these statements be backed up with anything other than anecdote? Having more than one child with autism doesn't make me an expert, but if you put something in writing, it needs to stand up when questioned. What's the definition of a 'tantrum' and a 'meltdown' and can we quote sources for that information? If I want to have credit when I take my child to a specialist, I need it to be backed by something more than opinion.

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