Many families approach us, at Harrogate’s Evolve Psychology Services, asking for information about Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASD) assessments.
If someone is struggling to interpret other people’s facial expressions, have difficulties making or maintaining eye contact and have issues around social anxiety then they themselves, a teacher or a family member may start looking into the possibility of ASD and what it means.
One of the first questions often asked is whether ASD present differently in girls than boys. We know that boys and men are more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls, so the big question is why?
Why are women and girls less likely to have an ASD diagnosis?
There are a number of theories that try to explain why this might be the case.
Some look at biological factors whilst others look at girls with autism not necessarily fitting into the standard ASD profile (i.e. the signs and traits of autism).
We also know that parents can be reluctant to seek a diagnostic assessment if their daughter appears to be coping reasonably well. Teachers often under report traits in girls. Clinicians likewise can also be sometimes hesitant to commit themselves to a diagnosis unless the signs are significantly different from what they determine to be “a normal range” of behaviour and abilities.
Another notable factor is that girls are often good at hiding how autism affects them.
We see clients coming up with strategies to mask or camouflage their difficulties. Some can appear to be either overly active participants or the quieter members of a group. They may be putting on ‘a show’ whilst actively managing their inner turmoil, something that is very likely to be physically and emotionally exhausting.
Successfully masking traits not only puts a tremendous pressure to prove oneself but can also lead to girls growing up feeling ‘fake’ and misunderstood.
Coming up with ingenious and creative ideas to imitate, model and camouflage their difficulties can include developing ‘social scripts’ for real-life situations. This helps them prepare for a social situation by understanding what they could say, how to act and what is expected of them.
We have also seen many young people who have created imaginary friends in order to counteract feelings of loneliness. If they are struggling to make friends in the real world, then girls can use these imaginary friends or play with dolls to substitute for real people. This can then help them experience some sort of connection.
Many of the young people that we have assessed have developed fascinations with history or literature, as well as interests in animals, which can feel quite different to some of the special interest boys often report.
We often see the more well-known differences such as a tone of voice. This can resemble a much younger person and have a childlike quality.
We also see girls, where a noticeable difference between themselves and their peer group, is that they do not hold the same values in terms of fashion or cosmetics.
They can, at times, report feeling that they do not fit in or that they feel very different to other girls the same age.
How can we better support girls with autism?
We hear client’s saying “I do not think I came across as autistic” whilst wishing they had the confidence to stand up and say “I am autistic.”
Many girls, young women and adults we have spoken to wish that friends and family knew the ‘real them’. That they see and accept their struggles and differences. This can be particularly important for those people seeking understanding and acceptance. We see how important this is as support can markedly reduce distress experienced in social situations.
Turn to Evolve for help
At Evolve Psychology Services we feel that it is extremely important that girls and women who experience traits causing them distress, know that there is a place for them in the world.
We want to help them understand that they can have a life that works for them, building upon their strengths and talents. We find that often the process of an assessment that potentially leads to a diagnosis relating to autism, can be part of that journey.
It is part of a process where they start to recognise and understand their own strengths and the world around them.
If this article resonates with either yourself, your daughter, your niece, your friend, a colleague or a neighbour then please get in touch.
If you are looking for more information about ASD assessments, to understand what a diagnosis means and how the journey starts, then please get in touch.