TIPS AND STRATEGIES FOR GIRLS WITH AUTISM
Girls with autism are often undiagnosed or diagnosed much later, because original diagnostic criteria have a boy bias. The challenge of receviving a proper diagnosis for their daughter is a early hurdle faced by many parents.
The reason for this late diagnosis is that the criteria for diagnosing autsim was created by examining mainly boys, and the girls can be very different. I think we all know ‘neuro-typical’ boys and girls are very different in their social, communication and behaviour.
There are many characteristics that are very similar to boys with autism spectrum but I thought I would list the main differences to girls with autism spectrum.
9 Ways Girls with Autism Differ to Boys with Autism
Their special interests are usually animals, music, art, literature.
They often have a very good imagination which includes imaginary friends, games, being animals or taking on persona of other girls.
They often see speech therapists for their speech and may be diagnosed with specific language disorders however there is something different about this girl no one can quite put their finger on.
They often play with older children or much younger children. This play is sometimes unusual for example ‘Mums and Dads’ but she will want to play the same role and game every time. She usually wants to be the pet or baby, whereas most girls want to be the Mum or Dad.
They often have hyperlexia – the ability to read but comprehension does not always match their reading skills. They are often the class book worm or write stories but they write the same story over and over changing a few characters. Many have a special interest in literature.
They have unusual sensory processing, like the boys, however bigger fluctuations often going from one extreme to the other.
They get anxious like boys, however their anxiety is rarely physical or disruptive. In fact many have great coping mechanisms at school however the family see a very different child at home where the anxiety can explode.
Often their difficulties with social skills are called ‘shy’, ‘quiet’, ‘solitary’.
They often like to organise and arrange objects. I watched one little girl spend hours seemingly playing “My Little Ponies” however on closer examination she was just arranging and re-arranging the horses over and over.
Tips and Strategies for Girls with Autism
Although there are some shared traits in both boys and girls with autism, girls often present differently. This can result in girls being misdiagnosed, misunderstood, or missed completely. Because girls with autism are less identifiable and diagnosed later than boys they may not receive appropriate and timely support.
Girls with autism are much better at masking their difficulties in order to fit in with their peers and often present with a more stable set of social skills.
For this reason girls with autism are much more likey to suffer from anxiety and to have trouble making friendships. I have created a list of tips below for both of these things!
Tips for Anxiety in Girls with Autism
- Check in with her regularly. It’s best to be discreet and off er her a variety of ways she can approach you. For example, in early years, a visual sign that girls can use to identify that she needs help is effective, and in older years being allowed to email the teacher directly can improve communication
- Get to know her – understand her individual triggers for anxiety and dig deeper if they are not obvious. It is also a good idea to check in with her parents as they will have great suggestions for what is helpful for their daughter
- Establish a safe haven or quiet place for her to access in the classroom or playground and provide her with a discreet way to access these areas when needed
- Allow access to sensory tools if will be of benefit to her
- When working in pairs in the classroom allow 1o mins with the partner and then 10 mins alone as this will allow downtime and increase socialisation
- Facilitate allocation of groups rather than asking students to get themselves in teams. This will reduce the anxiety of not being picked or chosen
Tips for Friendships for Girls with Autism
- Choose her clasroom and playground buddies so she has someone to go to during unstructured times
- Create a culture in the school which promotes inclusion e.g. lunchtime clubs which will be of interest, friendship bench in the playground, semi-structred play ideas during social times
- Girls who have just one or two intense friendships may need help widening their circle and understanding why they need to do this – help them find other people who have similar interests and regularly change up their working partners in the classroom
- Be aware of the different forms of bullying – it can be less obvious for females and often take a more covert approach
- Explain the unwritten rules to the class and ensure she understands them