As parents of children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), we are all vastly aware of the daily challenges and struggles many of our loved ones on the spectrum face. We often hear stories in the media concerning boys on the spectrum, but rarely ones that focus on the experiences of girls with autism. Sadly, this mispresents the reality of many neurodivergent families.
Often, the needs and diagnosis of girls with autism go underserved because many conversations concerning autism are generally in the context of how the condition affects boys. Sadly, this results in many not realizing that girls can also have autism. However, overlooking girls with autism is problematic for a multitude of reasons and can be highly damaging.
As a society, we must embrace inclusivity and acknowledge girls with autism are an essential demographic misunderstood and all too often lacking support. Fortunately, today, evidence-based studies demonstrate just how exceptional young girls with autism are and the incredible things they can achieve so that we can support girls with autism through ABA therapy and better diagnostic tools.
This blog by ABA Centers of Florida will describe the shared experiences of many girls with autism and why they are often underdiagnosed and often do not receive the treatment they need to flourish in better ways. Furthermore, we will provide suggestions for how parents, providers, clinicians, and allies can better support girls with autism on their journey towards a brighter future.
For more information about ABA Centers of Florida, click here to learn about our ABA therapy, autism blogs, and autism diagnostic services.
Gender Bias in Autism Populations and How It Harms Girls with Autism
For many years, experts thought females were at a lower risk for developing autism, leading to a gender bias in diagnosis that left many girls with autism overlooked and underdiagnosed, according to the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
It wasn’t until relatively recently that researchers began to recognize that girls sometimes identify with autism but aren’t represented in many statistics. Inaccurate detection and statistics primarily occur because autism presents differently than its male peers, making it more challenging for clinicians to diagnose, evaluate, or identify in girls.
Many autism experts suggest the reason why girls with autism do not always receive an appropriate diagnosis is that they mask their symptoms. By masking features that can make autism apparent, girls blend in with their peers and keep their struggles hidden.
“Masking” in autism can happen among all gender identities. But it is particularly prominent in girls with autism. When masking, the person consciously or unconsciously mimics social behaviors and hides their traits. This mechanism occurs across many other conditions. Still, it is especially prominent in girls and can be due to several reasons.
It is a long-standing belief that girls learn early to conform to societal expectations of femininity (such as maintaining eye contact, showing emotions, and being sociable) to be more successful and accepted within their communities. These demands mandate that many girls with autism demonstrate these skills, even if doing so can be difficult, exhausting, and even painful.
Furthermore, masking often leads to a delayed or missed diagnosis, as girls may appear to be “high functioning” due to their ability to hide traits. Masking complicates the issue of girls with autism and underdiagnosis because, without proper characterizations and understanding of their symptoms, girls with autism may not receive the necessary support and interventions they need to navigate life on the spectrum.
In the long run, masking can be detrimental for anyone with autism, as it requires constant effort and can lead to exhaustion, anxiety, and even depression. Parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals need to be aware of the phenomenon of masking and underdiagnosis in girls with autism and work towards creating an environment where neurodivergent girls can feel safe and confident expressing their true selves without receiving judgment or rejection.
Examining Differences in the Symptoms Presented by Girls with Autism
Regarding autism, no one demonstrates the same presentation. Recent research has shown that girls with autism tend to exhibit different symptoms than their male counterparts. While boys may display more socially inappropriate behaviors like aggression or outward outbursts, girls on the spectrum tend to have more internalizing symptoms that are not as outwardly apparent. These may include feelings of anxiety, emotional distress, and depression.
By understanding and identifying the unique symptoms that girls with autism may present, we can work towards a more comprehensive diagnostic approach that considers all the variables children with autism experience. Lack of awareness concerning girls on the spectrum can result in misdiagnosis of other disorders instead of recognizing the underlying autism and treating those symptoms to improve participation and promote well-being across developmental areas of life.
As we continue to learn more about how autism presents in girls, we break down gender biases, stereotypes, and expectations to ensure that every child with autism has access to reliable autism resources and the diagnostic support they need to reach their full potential without being overshadowed, overlooked or left unsupported.
The Unique Strengths and Abilities of Girls with Autism
Girls with autism possess many unique strengths and abilities that are often undervalued or unrecognized. While some girls struggle with social communication and sensory issues, many excel in problem-solving, attention to detail, and creative thinking. Girls with autism also often demonstrate a deep passion for specific topics or hobbies. Furthermore, their ability to hyperfocus can lead to exceptional knowledge and skills in these areas when applied appropriately.
It is essential to recognize and celebrate the strengths and abilities of girls with autism, as they offer valuable contributions to our society and should be fully included and supported.
4 Strategies for Supporting Girls with Autism
Girls with autism can face distinct challenges compared to their male peers with the same condition. Strategies for helping girls with autism include:
1. Address the specific demands of life for girls on the spectrum.
Caregivers and providers should do all they can to support girls with autism, most effectively and on their level.
2. Provide positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior.
By providing encouraging feedback on positive actions, you help boost self-confidence and help girls with autism feel more comfortable being themselves.
3. Address sensory issues, which are common among individuals with autism but may have different triggers for girls.
Educators and caregivers can create an environment that supports better learning and well-being for girls with autism by accommodating sensory sensitivities and proactively addressing them before the child resorts to maladaptive behavior to meet their needs.
4. Educate parents, teachers, therapists, and other professionals about girls with autism.
The more we discuss these issues with reliable facts and evidence, the more girls with autism can improve their experiences with the more encompassing autism services and understanding.
By implementing these strategies, we can support girls with autism and help them have better experiences now and later in life.
How ABA Therapy Helps Girls with Autism
Differences in autism symptoms between girls and boys on the spectrum too often result in delayed, missed, or inaccurate diagnoses for girls with the condition. However, when appropriately diagnosed, applied behavior analysis, or ABA therapy, can make a significant clinical impact on the lives of girls with autism.
ABA is a well-established behavioral therapy that helps clients from various backgrounds and ages with autism learn new skills and reduce challenging behaviors. ABA can improve communication, socialization, and emotional regulation, among other core areas that autism impacts in girls. Additionally, ABA can also help girls with autism face complex behaviors, such as aggression and self-injury.
ABA therapy for girls with autism offers a personal approach that considers the specific needs and strengths of girls living with autism and navigating the unique experiences that may arise along the way. ABA therapy offers girls with autism the tools to thrive while working with an expert treatment team, often including a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) or registered behavior technician (RBT).
Supporting Girls with Autism Leads to Better Outcomes for Everyone
The unique needs of girls with autism are all too often overlooked and under-diagnosed due to gender bias in diagnosis, making it essential for parents, teachers, therapists, and other allies to receive an education that focuses on recognizing and understanding the distinct symptoms that affect neurodivergent girls. It’s time to shine a light on this misunderstood population and bridge the gap between the diagnosis and the treatment for all with autism.
Let’s work together to ensure that every girl with autism can thrive.
More about the ABA Center of Florida and How We Serve Girls with Autism
At ABA Centers of Florida, we support families experiencing neurodiversity in regions including Doral, Miramar, Port Saint Lucie, Tampa, Orlando, Boca Raton, Melbourne, Davenport, Kissimmee, and Bradenton. We believe in providing the best ABA care and autism diagnostic support available, considering the client’s needs first and foremost.
We understand that autism affects individuals of all genders, including girls, which requires an evolving approach that understands their perspectives and leads to meaningful outcomes. That’s why we utilize evidence-based ABA programming and ABA interventions that serve those who identify as girls with autism.
Our experienced and compassionate ABA professionals work closely with neurodivergent clients and their families to create customized ABA plans that promote social interactions, language and communication, and other adaptive skills relevant to the client’s life goals.
Call ABA Centers of Florida today at 772-773-1975 to learn how we can help those on the spectrum, including girls, reach their full potential through ABA care, or contact us here.
We believe every child on the spectrum deserves the best care possible and are committed to helping your child thrive.