Girls with Autism
Girls with Autism - Bright Tots information on Autism and Child Development.  Autism information.  www.brighttots.com
Autism spectrum disorders are usually recognized in boys but much less in girls. The rate of autism is 4 times greater for boys
than for girls. Because boys outnumber girls with autism, comparatively little research has focused on girls. The reason why
there are more males than females with autism is not known. However this high ratio of boys to girls is found in a number of
disorders involving language and learning problems.

Girls with autism face unique challenges not just because they are girls, but because the disorder itself presents differently in
them than it does in boys. Lack of knowledge about autism in females may add to the difficulty it causes. The unique challenges
faced by girls with autism may also influence the way in which the disorder is presented.

Girls with autism are less likely to have an obsessive lifelong interest in collecting facts, as boys with autism often do. For
instance, autistic boys seem to focus on certain interests like trains, science, weather, etc. Girls with autism are interested in art,
music, relationships and feelings. Autistic girls are more likely to have obsession interests centered on people and relationships.
Some girls on the autistic spectrum often focus on diet or calorie control, which may become their obsession. Research shows
that about one in five women with an eating disorder is thought to be on the autistic spectrum.

Research on Autism and Girls

To date, there are few autism studies on girls with autism and the existing studies have focused on 2 forms of autism, PDD and
Rett disorder. Rett Syndrome is a rare but serious developmental disorder that primarily afflicts girls. Because it shares some
traits with autism, some experts say it is on the autism spectrum. PDD and PDD/NOS cases are at the less severe end of the
spectrum, where sufferers may have limited or no speech problems and can have high IQs.

Studies comparing girls to boys with autism indicate that when girls are identified as having disabilities, they were likely to have
more significant challenges and extreme educational needs than their male peers. Girls with autism obtain IQ scores that average
approximately 5 points lower than those of autistic boys. These girls on the autism spectrum may suffer as well by being placed
in specialized educational programs, where they will be surrounded by boys and further isolated from female social contacts.

A study from York University (measured by the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales) found that girls with autism really do seem
different than autistic boys in symptoms such as adaptive functioning and visual skills. However, girls with autism did not
demonstrate higher socialization scores than boys. Autistic girls have been noted to have stronger pretend-play skills. Girls with
autism also have stronger communication skills or communicative behaviors such as pointing and gaze following.  Other
behaviors like language deficits, tantrums, and aggression are all less common in girls than boys in the general autistic population.

Autistic Girls and Adolescence

During adolescence, social interactions and relationships are normally more complex and challenging for females with autism.
Autistic girls have more trouble with social interaction because peers are aggressive in more discreet indirect ways which are
hurtful toward another girl. Typical girls may bully girls with autism by spreading rumors, gossiping, exclusion, and nonverbal
behaviors such as giggling and eye-rolling. While lacking the social interaction skills, girls with autism spectrum disorders, often
mask their disorder through silence or imitation of others.

Girls with autism ages 8-12 years old may start puberty such as menstruation, development of breast and hormonal changes. As
girls approach adolescence, they may show trouble coping with puberty like accepting the changes in body shape. During these
stages of life interventions should address sex differences in communication, social behaviors, expectations, self-esteem, mental
health, and adaptive skills associated with puberty.  Girls ages 13-15 years old early teens may have to worry about self- care
and personal hygiene, hair growth and decisions on shaving, wearing deodorant and acne some girls with autism may be
overwhelmed.

Autistic girls may not be concerned with fashion or dating. With girls on the autism spectrum, parents and professionals need to
consider how hormonal changes connected with the menstrual cycle influence behavior, and how best to structure the
environment and frustration during menstruation. One reason is changes which may require new or modified hygiene task (ex.
frequency of showering, putting on deodorant, using maxi pads and shaving). Autistic girls who dislike change in general may
try to avoid these tasks.

Girls on the Spectrum and Behavioral Problems

Other difficulties in girls with autism are fine-motor deficits and problems with coordination and sensory issues. Parents of girls
with autism often struggle with severe problem behaviors for years. With females, issues related to menstruation can be difficult
for families, teachers, and other caregivers to handle. For example, sensory sensitivities and dislike of changes in routine may
lead to resistance or refusal to use sanitary napkins. Some girls and women with autism might not recognize that they have their
periods or may not have the communication skills to inform their caregivers.

Occasionally, some girls with autism become fascinated with the sensory qualities of the menstrual blood. Additional, learning to
change sanitary napkins and dispose of the used ones requires individualized and private instruction for many adolescents with
autism. Some girls with autism may experience premenstrual distress that negatively affects their mood and behavior, yet they
may not be able to communicate the nature of their discomfort. Another aspect of skill development that is important for
adolescent females with autism is learning to put on and wear a bra.

When girls with autism are younger, behavior problems seem easier to deal with. However, once her size increases and she
becomes a teenager strategies used to correct childhood behavior no longer work. Problem behaviors can often be decreased by
using visual supports and exercising new strategies and techniques. For additional help with problem behaviors, it is advisable to
work with a behavioral therapist.

Finally, some girls with autism may engage in disruptive behaviors for purposes of social interaction. These functions tended to
be for gaining caregiver attention or avoiding certain demands from parents and caregivers. You have just begun a long journey,
and there will be many curve balls along the way.  You will hear many opinions, receive a lot of advice, and have to sort through
conflicting information.   

The most important things to remember:  You are the expert on your own child - you know your child and lifestyle best.
Girls with Autism
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