Has it ever occurred to you that your little girl might need special attention to enable the full development of necessary life skills? Is there a nagging doubt that something isn’t quite right, but her just can’t figure out what the problem is? Could it possibly be that your lovely little girl is on the Autism Spectrum Disorder? (ASD)
ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting multiple developmental aspects, especially in social and communication skills and Symptoms of Autism in Girls may not be as distinct as that of boys.
Several studies state that males are four times more prone to being on the ASD spectrum than females. This has resulted in significantly more research has been carried out on males than females due to this much higher ratio. Thus, girls are often misdiagnosed with other mental health conditions which could potentially make issues worse rather than better.
Why is diagnosing Autism more challenging in girls than boys?
In the case of high-functioning autism, there is no specific diagnosis for girls. Instead, there is an umbrella of diagnosis. These girls might have necessary life skills such as preparing their own food, ensuring adequate personal hygiene routines, going to college and, eventually, holding down a good job with few apparent problems. Thus, in many cases, it gets more challenging to analyze and address the signs such as struggling with basic social interactions which can manifest quite early but may also not be apparent for many years.
If you suspect there may be underlying issues, observing and engaging in verbal communication about their personal experiences is essential. Every autistic person is different, and they respond differently. Hence, the symptoms may as well differ from person to person.
Indicators and symptoms of Autism in girls
To keep a keen eye on the early signs and symptoms of autism, here are some indicators to help you with autistic spectrum disorder in girls.
1. Cognitive Impairment
Does your child struggle while concentrating? Memory-disfunction or poor motor development in girls may indicate Mild to Severe Cognitive Impairment. ASD is a syndrome with impairments in a variety of cognitive domains that affect judgments and decision making. You need to recognise and access the situation more precisely as cognitive impairment might be a sign of autism in girls.
2. Difficulty in social interaction
Difficulty in making eye contact, social interaction, and communication may indicate symptoms of autism. If a child does not respond when they are called by their names or make gestures or vocalise asking for help, you should seek professional advice.
Some people may laugh and give children labels such as “quirk,” “geek,” “nerd,” or “odd.” Please do not accept this! Difficulty in social interaction is a common symptom and if not acknowledged and dealt with appropriately, can create a vicious circle that creates even more problems for the child in both the short and longer-term.
3. Executive Functioning
If your daughter is continually facing difficulty organising and conducting hard scheduled work, it may be an indicator. Certain behaviours and ways of speaking might be the early signs and symptoms of autism.
Lack of motivation, increase in panic, feelings of excessive anxiety and stress, constant lying, but immediately feeling remorse and shame are signs which should not be taken lightly.
Understand these are not signs that the child is naughty, disobedient, or lazy, but they may have an inherent problem that they are unable to vocalise.
4. Speech Delay
In most cases, girls with special needs get overwhelmed and shut themselves down when pushed outside their comfort zone.
If you notice your daughter struggling to initiate verbal communication with specific people, lacking facial expression, or being unable to make small talk or express basic needs to others, you might need to seek expert advice.
5. Self-Stimulating Behaviours
Studies state that individuals with autism are more involved in self-stimulating behaviours, also known as stimming.
These behaviours might be subtle in girls and can be easily brushed off as quirks. Stimming actions include nail-biting, skin picking, tapping fingers repeatedly, heel raising, flapping hands, brushing, curling, or fiddling hair. Such subtle symptoms might go unnoticed in girls as these are certainly not as dramatic as hitting one’s head against hard surfaces, for example, as often witnesses in many autistic boys!
6. Sensory Overload
Is your daughter too sensitive? Does she often complain about hating a particular task or a person?
Sensory overload is a feeling of being trapped that may trigger violent or aggressive behaviour at times. This sensory overload happens due to the overstimulation of bodily senses.
Different environmental elements may affect an autistic person in different ways that lead them to push people away. Sympathy and empathy are good approaches, but if your daughter struggles to overcome these emotions and shows disregard for the pain, both physical and mental, she may be causing others, there is probably reason to be concerned.
7. Intense Interests
Autistic girls may or may not have particular interests that raise eyebrows and/or concerns, but the intensity of interest and the level of knowledge on a subject may be quite noticeable.
Understand the signs when these intense interests take hold and your girl shows repeated behaviour of telling you every minute detail on their favourite topic even if they are not asked to do so.
8. Camouflaging lack of social skills
Girls with ASD are better able to camouflage their symptoms of autism than autistic boys.
Girls can sometimes unwittingly use compensatory behaviours to mitigate their social difficulties. Boys show a more significant and harsh lack of demonstration of social skills. Unlike males, females can pick up skills more spontaneously and act on them: this is one of the vital challenges of diagnosing autism in females.
9. Repeated Seizures
Abnormal electrical activities in the brain cause seizures or Epilepsy. It affects different brain structures and functions. Unfortunately, research shows that connections with an autism spectrum disorder are common.
Epilepsy is caused by the disruption of neurons that results in the malfunction of the brain. Girls with ASD are more likely to develop seizures at any stage of their life. Symptoms might show up in toddlers or even in early teens.
10. Too Rigid to Change
List-making and scheduling work come handy almost all the time. But for girls with an autism spectrum disorder, they find it challenging to adapt to change.
Autistic girls are more likely to be not flexible with their schedules. They are unable to reorganise or reconstruct accordingly and struggle to cope with alterations or adjustments.
11. Comorbidity and/or misdiagnosis
Comorbidity means that more than one disease or illness is present in one person at the same time.
It is quite common for anyone on the autistic spectrum to suffer from other illnesses, but common symptoms can often result in a wrong diagnosis.
Since autistic girls show different symptoms than autistic boys, these signs are often misdiagnosed with other mental health conditions such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or an eating disorder. It is therefore extremely important that as the parent or carer you observe your child’s behaviour and gestures and talk openly about their daily experiences.
Final Thoughts on Girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Do please reconsider before stereotyping the notion of autism. Although your child and the wider family may need support, your little girl may well have attributes and skills that are not apparent in others. For example, many people on the spectrum are extremely creative and this may set them apart in a more positive manner.
Females with autism may pick up different social skills, which might make the abnormality challenging to identify. Keep in mind that girls need not demonstrate behaviours similar to that of autistic boys to be in the spectrum. Recognize the signs, do objective assessments, and most importantly, act promptly in order to obtain a diagnosis and find nearby support groups.
Do also ensure that you can speak with a doctor with a good knowledge of autism. Historically, many children with autism have been over-medicated or even medicated unnecessarily. STOMP is a medication-related project run by NHS England for people with a learning disability and/or autism. It is about ensuring that people get the right medicine if they need it and that people get all the help they need in other ways as well.
Header image by Hatice EROL from Pixabay
Little girl photo by Ratiu Bia on Unsplash