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Autism and girls

Rates of autism prevalence suggest that boys are almost 5 times more likely to have autism than girls (1 in 42 boys versus 1 in 189 girls).

But this figure may hide the true incidence of autism in girls and in women.

Parents of girls on the spectrum will often share frustrating tales of how difficult it was to get a proper diagnosis for their daughters, while many autistic women did not receive their own diagnoses until adulthood.

There is a growing body of work that suggests that girls with autism can and often do present quite differently to boys. Although every child with autism is different, here are some characteristics that tend to be quite common in girls with autism:

  • A special interest in animals, music, art, and literature (might show signs of hyperlexia)
  • Strong imagination, might escape into the worlds of nature or fiction
  • A desire to arrange and organise objects
  • Not identifying with or wanting to play cooperatively with female peers (e.g. might want to dictate the rules of play or prefer to play alone in order 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 prone to meltdowns or explosive behaviour at home
  • Often displaying strong sensory sensitivities, especially to auditory and tactile input (e.g. clothing tags, socks)

As we learn more about autism in girls, we appreciate just how important timely diagnosis, effective support, and understanding can be.

Helpful resources

“What it’s like to be a girl with Asperger syndrome,” – by Tony Attwood

“Girls & women on the spectrum” by Dr Lori Ernsperger

“Are girls with autism hiding in plain sight?” from the Interactive Autism Network at Kennedy Krieger Institute

More available in our Resource Section