Girls are significantly more likely to be missed for a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Statistics vary, however they range from a rate of 2:1 (two boys, for every one girl diagnosed) to up to 7:1. So what does this look like?
Autistic girls often have some of these characteristics:
A special interest in animals, music, art, and literature
A strong imagination (might escape into the worlds of nature or fiction)
A desire to arrange and organise objects
Not wanting to play cooperatively with female peers (for example, wanting to dictate the rules of play or preferring to play alone to maintain control)
A tendency to ‘mimic’ others in social situations in order to blend in
An ability to hold their emotions in check at school, but be prone to meltdowns or explosive behaviour at home
Strong sensory sensitivities, especially to sounds and touch (for example; clothing tags, socks or even deodorant).
What this looks like in real life
Many of the girls I have worked with want to control the play. They tell you what to say and what to do in a play scenario. Their pretend play might look good, however under closer inspection they often enjoy just setting up the play - gathering all the materials/dolls and setting up the play, but never actually acting something out. Often they might re-enact TV shows or movies that they've seen to, with absolutely no variation.
They copy people around them in social situations. They repeat phrases and copy actions in an attempt to be accepted by their peers. This might look like "chunked phrases" being repeated somewhat out of context, coming home from school with new mannerisms and generally following peers at school or on the playground.
Girls often hold it all together during the day, and then when the
y get home they "lose the plot". This can be really frustrating for families, however it's just the child recognising they are in a safe place, with no judgement and all that stress and anxiety from across the day needs to be released.
How to support autistic girls
Provide them with structure and routine, teaching them coping strategies for when routines are changed
Allow them breaks within the day to support their sensory and emotional systems to recover without having to have full "meltdowns""
Use a strengths-based approach to teaching new skills (particularly social skills)
Provide them with support and education, especially around safety and stranger danger