0203 326 9160

The Autistic traits you might not think to look for in girls

Posted on Monday, 09 December 2019, in Autism, Child Autism

Looking for Autistic traits in girls


For a long time, people thought that autism was an exclusively male condition. Although studies have varied, experts believe the ratio of autistic males to autistic females is 3:1. This doesn’t necessarily mean that autism is less common in girls. In fact, it is much more likely that fewer girls are being diagnosed because their autistic traits are different and are more difficult to spot. Late diagnosis for girls can cause problems later on, including mental health issues and even eating disorders, so what should parents and teachers look for?


Social interaction

Autistic children often find social situations difficult or even distressing. This appears to be less of an issue in girls, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t affected. Because they are raised to place greater importance on friendships than boys, autistic girls are more driven to try and fit in. They can go to enormous lengths to mask their difference, adopting elaborate strategies such as practicing pre-prepared greetings or faking eye contact. They often enjoy watching programmes with predictable social interaction over and over again, learning these ‘scripts’ to use within social situations. Many will do this so effectively that their internal discomfort can be difficult to detect.


Special interests

One of the better-known traits on the autistic spectrum is the single-minded pursuit of specific interest, often to the exclusion of much else. Where autistic males are often fascinated by stereotypically boyish interests such as trains or gaming, girls are equally likely to focus their attention on more feminine pursuits. Whether it’s Disney films, fantasy stories or drama their level of interest is no less intense than boys. Still, the fact that these are seen as ‘normal’ for girls sometimes means that the unusual depth of their fascination can be overlooked.


Autistic girls can have hidden special interests


Social touch

One area where you might spot the signs of ASD in girls more easily than boys is their reaction to touch. Younger girls are often touchy-feely with their friends. An aversion to hugging or stroking hair can make them stand out from their neurotypical peers. Similarly, an unusually strong aversion to certain textures can indicate that a child of either gender might be on the autistic spectrum. Trusting Autistic girls will often be very trusting and tend to take people at face value. This can put them at risk of manipulation by their peers or adults that might take advantage of this vulnerability.


Autistic girls can respond differently to being touched



Amy Gravino, a certified autism specialist and consultant diagnosed at age 11 says, "In my experience, I’m a lot more trusting than my neurotypical peers, and this leads me not always to see when someone has duplicitous intentions. I believe what people say upfront because I’m very upfront. That leads to many women on the spectrum being taken advantage of."

Teaching autistic girls how to keep themselves safe, especially as they become old enough to have sex or be encouraged to try dangerous or illegal activities, is vital.


Eating disorders

The relationship between children and food is always a complicated one, but for autistic children, eating can have a much deeper significance. Issues about texture, colour and routine combine to make mealtimes a particular flashpoint. For some autistic girls, controlling food can be the beginning of a pattern that leads to anorexia. In fact, studies of females with anorexia show that they have elevated autistic traits. Diagnosis of both disorders is often made quite later when anorexia takes a different shape than neurotypical children. An early diagnosis of ASD means you can access expert support for your child’s food issues and have a greater chance of helping them avoid developing an eating disorder.


Autistic girls can often be misdiagnosed



Because of the difficulties in detecting autism in girls, their symptoms may be misdiagnosed. Depression, anxiety and personality disorders are more common diagnoses. Time is often wasted treating the wrong condition. Schools and medical professionals must be educated to raise awareness of gender-specific autistic traits.