Empowering Autistic Girls and Women

Autism in Girls

Hans Asperger first identified Asperger’s in 1944 describing what he believed to be a disorder that only affected boys . The extreme male brain theory dominated.

All ‘neuro-typical’ boys and girls are very different in their social, communication and behavior so its not rocket science that autistic girls  will be different to autistic boys .It is now beginning to be understood that girls can be on the autism spectrum but that it presents differently .These girls still have difficulty’s with social clues and understanding social rules and have difficulty’s with executive functioning but where as boys on the spectrum can display more disruptive and aggressive behaviors in contrast girls on the spectrum are often  quiet and passive and for this very reason often have their difficulties overlooked .Shy ,highly sensitive and often high achievers ,they are often very educational advanced and their set of strengths mask their deficits.You know there is something different about this girl but  cant quite put your finger on it .

Girls masking behaviors can develop very young they mimic what other children do even mimicking accents and behaviors taking on the persona of other girls. You often find they that they play with older children or much younger children. .This is OK when the girl is surrounded by positive role models but can cause problems when the girl begins to mirror the negative behaviors of others in an attempt to fit .Autistic girls are often mislabeled by people ,they may get labelled as unfriendly ,unsympathetic or even rude .They may have been labelled as odd and weird by their peers due to unusual behaviors and their misunderstanding of social rules .Many have to deal with constant bullying This has huge impacts on the girls self esteem.During early years a lot of girls overcome their social difficulty’s by having one special friend or by mixing with the boys .Boys games tend to be more rule based and rigid whereas girls games have a far more social element .

Difficulties with socialisation become more apparent once a girl reaches her teenage years, and the rules of relationships between boys and girls change and social expectations increase .

Dr. Tony Attwood has identified common characteristics of women and girls on the autism spectrum, especially those with Asperger’s Syndrome.He described girls with Asperger’s as little philosophers and many seem to be very deep thinkers When comfortable these girls can speak fluently and in a pedantic fashion ,often they can talk for hours about their special interest which often include animals, music, art, literature. Sadly if these girls do not have someone to answer their questions they can become confused and anxious about life .

To insure that it becomes easier to recognise the symptoms of Autism in young girls ,we have to come together as  a community and speak of our difficulty’s and challenges so that we can make the journey through life easier for the next generation of autistic  girls .

You hear people say that Autism in girls is rare ,but when you look at the figures ,theirs lots of us and if the incidence of Autism continues to rise our numbers will just keep increasing .Lets have a look at the figure shall we .

It is said that 4/5 of individuals diagnosed with Autism are male .

That dosent look like a lot of females does it .

What about when you say 20 in every 100 .

What about when you realise that Around 700,000 people may have autism, or more than 1 in 100 in the population.The latest prevalence studies of autism indicate that 1.1% of the population in the UK may have autism.

This means that over 695,000 people in the UK may have autism, an estimate derived from the 1.1% prevalence rate applied to the

2011 UK census figures.

 
 
So just by those figures alone that’s 140,000 females in the UK that are believed to have Autism
New research points to the fact that 1 in 68 births now affected by autism how many of those wills be girls .
Clinical referrals to a specialist diagnostic centre such as The National Autistic Society’s Lorna Wing Centre have seen a steady increase in the number of girls and women referred. Because of the male gender bias, girls are less likely to be identified with ASD, even when their symptoms are equally severe.
Many girls are never referred for diagnosis and are missed from the statistics.
At The Lorna Wing Centre, emphasis is placed on the different manifestations of behavior in autism spectrum conditions as seen in girls and women compared with boys and men.
 
In their paper (2011) it identified the different way in which girls and women present under the following headings; social understanding, social communication, social imagination which is highly associated with routines, rituals and special interests. Some examples cited in the paper are:
 

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 in 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.

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