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Autism Acceptance Month: Understanding Autism in girls




Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has long been associated with stereotypical traits that predominantly manifest in boys. However, recent research has shed light on the unique ways autism presents in girls, challenging traditional assumptions and highlighting the importance of adopting a neurodiversity affirming lens.


One of the key distinctions in autism presentation between genders lies in social communication. While boys with autism often display more overt difficulties in social interactions, such as lack of eye contact and difficulty understanding social cues, girls may demonstrate more subtle differences. For instance, they might mimic social behavior to camouflage their challenges, leading to delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis. This phenomenon, known as "camouflaging" or "masking," can result in girls internalizing their struggles and experiencing heightened anxiety and stress.


Autistic girls often develop intricate strategies to blend in with their neurotypical peers, such as imitating facial expressions, rehearsing conversations, and observing social dynamics meticulously. These efforts can be incredibly taxing, requiring constant vigilance and adaptation to navigate social situations successfully. While masking allows girls to cope with social demands temporarily, it can exacerbate feelings of alienation and disconnection from their true selves in the long run.


Moreover, girls with autism frequently face societal pressure to conform to gender norms, compounding the challenges associated with masking. They may feel compelled to suppress their autistic traits in favor of conforming to feminine ideals, further obscuring their authentic identities. This intersectional experience highlights the importance of recognizing and validating the diverse ways in which autism intersects with gender, ensuring that individuals receive appropriate support and understanding.


In embracing a neurodiversity affirming perspective, it's crucial to recognize and celebrate the diverse ways autism presents in girls. By acknowledging the unique strengths and challenges of individuals across the spectrum, we can create more inclusive environments that support the holistic well-being of all neurodiverse individuals towards true autism acceptance.



Sources:

Hull L, Petrides KV, Allison C, et al. "Putting on My Best Normal": Social Camouflaging in Adults with Autism Spectrum Conditions. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 2017;47(8):2519-2534.


Lai M-C, Lombardo MV, Auyeung B, et al. Sex/Gender Differences and Autism: Setting the Scene for Future Research. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 2015;54(1):11-24.


Gould J, Ashton-Smith J. Missed diagnosis or misdiagnosis? Girls and women on the autism spectrum. Good Autism Practice (GAP). 2011;12(1):34-41.



Written by Dani Busayong, M.Sc.

Registered Speech Language Pathologist

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