Girls and Autism

Eastside SpeechAutism

girls and autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterised by three main traits:

  • Impaired communication
  • Impaired reciprocal social interaction
  • Restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviours or interests (including sensory differences)

Although all people with ASD share certain traits, these traits typically present differently in boys and girls.

Autism in women and girls

In the past, ASD has been thought to affect more boys than girls; however, there is growing research indicating that autism presents differently in girls and can go undetected.

Dr. Tony Attwood has done extensive research in this area, and he reports that girls with ASD often recognise on some level that they are different from their peers and as a result, they consciously or unconsciously ‘mask’ or ‘camouflage’ their difficulties in order to fit in. Although this can appear to work in the short term, it can later lead to: exhaustion, mental health difficulties, internalising struggles and emotions, may be very well-behaved at school but experiencing anxiety/meltdowns at home, and a loss of identity stemming from imitating peers.

Girls with ASD experience social or emotional difficulties which can impair their communication and ability to reciprocate social interaction. Girls may also present with restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviours or interests and sensory differences.  Their communication may be:

  • delayed or disordered language skills
  • Advanced language skills for her age (e.g. use of vocabulary that would not typically be expected for a child of their age)
  • Unusual pitch – falsetto quality/ high pitch, monotone, flat affect
  • Repetitive or scripted language (e.g. use of language or phrases used by peers or heard on tv)

In social interaction they may be:

  • Observing others intently
  • Excellent imitators/ mimickers
  • Very good at responding to direct questions; however, they struggle to initiate interactions and continue a flow in conversations
  • Attached to one particular peer and often becomes very reliant on this peer

Restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviours or interests (including sensory differences) including:

  • Repetitive interests are often based on things their peers like, so they are often missed. Yet, it is the intensity of their interest and what they do with these objects that differs, e.g., set up toys, but don’t play with them, repeat/ imitate play scenarios they have seen, collect items
  • Typically demonstrate sensory differences from a young age (e.g. sensitivity to loud sounds, picky eater, sensitivity to fabric textures/ tags/ colours of clothing). Girls will often learn to handle these sensitivities as they get older; although they remain aware of the sensory differences.

If you have any concerns about your child’s, or your own, social communication please don’t hesitate to be in touch. We’re here to support and help you!


Tony Attwood