Autism in Girls: Recognizing Signs & Seeking Support

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects people of all genders, yet it often presents differently in girls compared to boys. Girls tend to exhibit more subtle signs that can be overlooked, leading to missed or delayed diagnoses. But when equipped with the right knowledge, we can better recognize autism in girls and get them the support they need.

Why Autism is Often Missed in Girls

For many years, autism research focused predominantly on boys. As a result, the diagnostic criteria were based on male traits and behaviors. Girls, meanwhile, tend to internalize and camouflage their autism symptoms more than boys:

  • Girls may rely on peers to guide social interactions.
  • Girls tend to have restricted interests that appear less disruptive.
  • Girls exhibit more passive, quiet, and shy behavior that masks social difficulties.
  • Girls have better verbal and imitation skills that help them blend in.
  • Girls are better at regulating their emotions publicly, but may struggle privately.
  • Girls are expected by society to be nurturing, socially adept, and adept communicators.

This leads to the myth that autism affects far more boys than girls. In reality, the ratio is estimated to be 3-4 boys for every 1 girl diagnosed. Many girls slip under the radar when their autism presents subtly.

Autism in Girls Recognizing Signs & Seeking Support
Autism in Girls Recognizing Signs & Seeking Support

Recognizing the Signs of Autism in Girls

While autism varies for each person, these traits in girls should spark further screening:

Social Communication Differences

  • Difficulty making and keeping friends
  • Struggles reading social cues and body language
  • Challenges joining group conversations or play
  • Tendency to withdraw into safe solitary activities

Restricted & Repetitive Behaviors

  • Intense interests in specific topics that dominate conversations
  • Rigid adherence to rules and routines
  • Repetitive motor movements like hand flapping, rocking, or spinning

Sensory Issues

  • High sensitivity to sounds, textures, tastes, or smells
  • Seeking out intense sensory experiences like loud music or spinning

Emotional Regulation Difficulties

  • Outbursts and meltdowns when overwhelmed
  • Inability to manage or recover from disappointment
  • Anxiety, irritability, or depression

Other Signs

  • Unusual gait or posture
  • Speech differences like odd intonation, volume, rhythm, or pitch
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Epilepsy/seizures

Many of these red flags are dismissed as shyness, anxiety, quirkiness or simply being a girl. But paying attention to patterns and degree can indicate an autism evaluation is needed.

The Power of Early Autism Identification in Girls

When autism goes unrecognized in girls, they miss out on vital support during key developmental windows. Early intervention can make a world of difference in quality of life and long-term outcomes.

Benefits of early autism identification and treatment include:

  • Developing social, communication, and life skills
  • Learning healthy emotional regulation and self-care skills
  • Getting accommodations and support at school
  • Reducing anxiety, depression, and challenging behaviors through tailored treatment
  • Gaining confidence and appreciating strengths
  • Finding a community of peers who understand the experience of autism

While autism is a lifelong condition, early intervention helps girls thrive at home, school, work, and in the community.

Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder in Girls

If you notice possible autism traits in your daughter or female student, the first step is speaking with her doctor. They can refer you to a specialist like a developmental pediatrician, psychiatrist, psychologist or neurologist for comprehensive screening.

An autism evaluation includes:

  • Developmental history – Parent/caregiver interviews detailing social, communication, behavioral and sensory milestones and challenges.
  • Observations – Experts will observe the child in natural settings like school and home.
  • Standardized testing – Tests like the ADOS-2 and ADI-R are gold-standard diagnostic tools specific to autism.
  • IQ and skills testing – Assessing intellectual disability and delays that often accompany ASD.
  • Medical exam – To rule out conditions with overlapping symptoms.
  • Input from teachers and therapists – Important additional perspectives.

This rigorous process leads to an accurate diagnosis so girls get the interventions matched to their needs. Many girls who do not meet full ASD criteria still qualify for and benefit from autism services.

Evidence-Based Autism Treatments for Girls

Once diagnosed, a variety of therapies help girls manage autism challenges:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) – Uses positive reinforcement to teach communication, social, cognitive, motor, and adaptive living skills. Highly-structured 1:1 ABA therapy is the gold-standard treatment proven to improve outcomes.
  • Speech Therapy – Improves verbal and nonverbal communication skills like conversation, articulation, and gesture use.
  • Occupational Therapy – Helps with sensory issues, motor skills, handwriting, organization, emotional regulation, and daily living skills.
  • Social Skills Groups – Structured peer settings to learn and practice social interaction skills.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Teaches coping strategies for anxiety, obsessive thoughts, emotional regulation, and more.
  • Medications – May help co-occurring conditions like anxiety, depression, OCD, ADHD or sleep issues.

An individualized treatment plan with a combination of therapies tailored to her needs gives a girl the best chance of success. Family support is also essential.

Partnering with Specialists for ABA Therapy

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is considered the most effective autism treatment and is recommended for 25-40 hours per week. ABA helps children master skills in all developmental domains using positive reinforcement and data-driven teaching.

At Jade ABA Therapy, we specialize in providing high-quality ABA for autistic girls and women in Maryland. Our compassionate Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) become trusted partners to each girl and family.

We begin with a comprehensive assessment to design an individualized ABA plan targeting your daughter’s unique needs and goals. Our center-based and in-home programs teach critical skills through 1:1 sessions, group instruction, social skills groups, and more.

To learn more about our girl-focused ABA therapy services in Maryland, call Jade ABA Therapy today at (410) 616-0901. Our team is ready to help your daughter gain confidence and thrive in all areas of life.

The Future is Bright for Autistic Girls

While autism presents unique challenges for girls, the future is bright when they get the specialized support they deserve. By better understanding how autism manifests in girls, seeking screening when red flags arise, securing an accurate diagnosis, and enrolling in evidence-based therapies, girls can live full, happy lives.

There is no cure for autism, but early intensive intervention comes close by giving girls the tools to successfully navigate a world that isn’t always built for them. At Jade ABA Therapy, it is our privilege to partner with girls and families to unlock each child’s potential.

References

  1. Dworzynski, K., Ronald, A., Bolton, P., & Happé, F. (2012). How different are girls and boys above and below the diagnostic threshold for autism spectrum disorders? Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 51(8), 788-797. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2012.05.018
  2. Werling, D. M., & Geschwind, D. H. (2013). Sex differences in autism spectrum disorders. Current opinion in neurology, 26(2), 146-153. https://doi.org/10.1097/WCO.0b013e32835ee548
  3. Navot, N., Jorgenson, A. G., & Webb, S. J. (2016). Maternal experience raising girls with autism spectrum disorder: A qualitative study. Child: care, health and development, 42(4), 536-545. https://doi.org/10.1111/cch.12470
  4. Cooper, K., Smith, L. G. E., & Russell, A. J. (2018). Gender identity in autism: Sex differences in social affiliation with gender groups. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 48(12), 3995-4006. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-018-3590-1
  5. Green, R. M., Travers, A. M., Howe, Y., & Mcdougle, C. J. (2019). Women and autism spectrum disorder: diagnosis and implications for treatment of adolescents and adults. Current psychiatry reports, 21(4), 22. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-019-1006-3
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