Autism now affects 1 in 59 children in the United States. There is a ton of information on symptoms, but those symptoms seem very specific to boys. Only in the last few years has there been proper research to understand autism symptoms in girls.
Along the journey to our daughter’s diagnosis, I desperately looked for information online on autism symptoms in girls. This was four years ago now, but the information wasn’t there.
The only information I could come across was Aspergers in girls. While Aspergers has been diagnosed on the spectrum (until the DSM 5), it is not the only form of Autism a female can have.
While Autism does present differently in girls, there are still core symptoms associated with Autism no matter what the gender is of the individual. Autism is a developmental disability. It affects the way individuals communicate, behave, or interact with others. There is no one cause for Autism, and it affects everyone differently. These symptoms can range from mild to very severe.
All individuals with autism display difficulties in the following three areas:
- communication (verbal & non-verbal)
- relationships – Struggling with relating to others & their environment
- lack of thought & behavior flexibly
Autism Symptoms in Girls
In 4 months, our son received an autism diagnosis at 23 months old. We noticed symptoms very early on. When he started regressing in his
Our son showed a ton of red flags for Autism. Regression in speech, obsession with trains and order, spinning, inconsistent eye contact, etc.
Both of our daughter’s journeys were very different. We received a diagnosis for them at ages 8 & 11! My autism diagnosis came at age 33! As you can imagine, autism symptoms in girls can be different enough to impact diagnosis!
What are Autism symptoms in girls?
Autism is a field that is constantly learning. Today, I am sharing the symptoms of Autism in girls that our youngest daughter showed. These are pretty similar to my personal experiences and my oldest daughters. However, we also each have our own unique experiences with Autism. Where one thrives, the other struggles.
If you believe your child may have
All of her emotions are so extreme! When she is happy, it’s overwhelmingly happy. If the pencil she likes breaks, she is not just sad, she’s extremely upset, and you would think someone ran over her dog—all of her emotions, no matter which is so intense.
She had a speech delay (no regression) at two years old. She still has a lisp and has trouble with “r”, and “l” sounds in the middle of the word.
She has to have very soft clothing with no tags when it comes to touch. She is quite the opposite of my son with Autism when it comes to noise. Overwhelming noise and sight make her hyper. Rarely will those cause a meltdown like emotional & social situations? Instead, she starts twirling, jumping, running, bouncing, and speaking extremely loud for the situation.
Social & Emotional Immaturity
She is socially and emotionally several years behind her biological age. She prefers to play with kids 3-4 years younger than her. Her play with toys also resembles that of a child much younger.
When it comes to symptoms of Autism in girls (and boys!), understanding others’ emotions is a huge struggle! This is an issue with all three of our autistic children. Our youngest daughter does understand others’ emotions, but not at the moment. She only understands after you point out a sad face, frustrated tone, or other emotional cues that can be seen. She cannot pick up these cues on her own.
She has always had some problems with sleeping. Even when she was around one or so, she rarely could get to sleep independently or at a reasonable time.
Her anxiety can be pretty bad at times. This is a separate diagnosis, but a lot of it stems from not understanding things. She often completely ignored tasks simply because of the anxiety of doing them wrong.
She is constantly spinning around. I didn’t think much of it when she was little because she was a little girl twirling around. I didn’t realize that this was more than the “normal.”
She has always been clumsy. Bumps and bruises. We always thought that she was just tiny and clumsy. Occasionally doctors would ask questions about the amount, but no one ever had suggestions to offer.
Poor Muscle Tone
Catching a ball isn’t possible. She can’t run far. She constantly complains of her legs being tired, even when walking through a store.
Problems Playing with Others
Another major one on the list of symptoms of Autism in girls is difficulties with social interactions. Our daughter struggles with maintaining friendships. The most common issue is her being “bossy” and “controlling.”
She doesn’t understand relationships and tries to act like a parent to older siblings and adults. Even when speaking to adults, she does not speak as a child.
Can’t Let Go
This is a big one. No matter how minor the issue may be, she cannot let it go if she feels she has been wronged, even after a solution has been given. This also includes not understanding when something isn’t an issue that involves her.
Best Friend Issues
This is where we have a hard time understanding that we can have more than one friend, but our friends can also have other friends. Often, she has come home from school crying that someone won’t play with her.
After getting to the bottom of it, most times, it’s because someone else was also playing with them, and she didn’t have the friend to herself.
Inconsistent Eye Contact
This was one that even her Dad overlooked. She has adapted well without early intervention but struggles with keeping eye contact. She will often make eye contact briefly once and rarely again in the remainder of a conversation.
I only noticed it after my son’s diagnosis, but the psychiatrist noticed it immediately. A huge factor in understanding the symptoms of Autism in girls starts with parents recognizing symptoms.
Intensity of Interests
This is where things get complicated. Most of her interests are similar to other girls her age. However, the intensity of those interests is much more. She loves tiny puppy dolls, but she has a collection of over 100 and knows every detail about them. Some of her interests are unconventional, though. She also has an obsession with collected empty toilet paper rolls (to use for crafts, but never does, collects) and pine cones. She even crafts habitats for the tiny pine cones.
Unexpected transitions and a lack
Struggles with Communication
This list serves as a starting point in your journey of determining if your daughter is on the autism spectrum. If you think your daughter is autistic, please get in touch with your pediatrician or family physician as soon as possible. Early intervention is critical! If you are curious to learn more about Autism, check out Autism Around the World.
Could you contact me (hopefully email address is visible to you)? My daughter has many (not all) of the same issues, and I want to learn about strategies, therapies, &c. Thanks!
This is such a wonderful article. I love how thorough you were in all the symptoms, the things we don’t think about…
My daughter is on the spectrum and yup, you just about described her exactly 🙂 You are SO right. It is so very hard to get girls diagnosed!
It took us 3+ years, 5 therapists ( one was my own who actually was the one who made us realize what was going on), 1 psychiatrist, 1 developmental pediatrician, switching to homeschooling, and finally an amazing psychologist to get our daughter’s diagnosis when she was 8 as well. Now we are waiting to formally diagnosed our 10 yo due to her atypical presentation, but I’m sure it’s officially ASD ADHD as well.
Autism is a a spectrum, covering over 100 different types of disorders. So you would think it wouldn’t be hard for a doctor to think that maybe girls present differently from boys. My niece is 10, and had been diagnosed with ADHD for over four years. After our daughter was diagnosed Autism/ADHD is about the time doctors were figuring out the same for my niece. The psychiatrist at the Autism center that did her testing said that all of her symptoms showed severe ADHD and she wasn’t comfortable making the diagnosis of autism. The funny part was, the ADHD qualification at her age are very, very close to Autism at her age. The neurologist did use that testing to make the official Autism/ADHD diagnosis, but it took many doctors and even an inclusive result from an autism specialist to get her that diagnosis.
The one thing I can say is that once you have a dx of autism for one child, it becomes much easier to get a dx of autism for a sibling. I truly believe if our son had not been diagnosed autistic, she never would have been considered by doctors. Thankfully, that diagnosis has opened so many doors for her and she is doing amazing. She is currently on vacation (without any siblings) with grandma & papa and having a blast. She finally called me today after 4 days away! The longest she ever stayed away from me was a day when I gave birth to our son. All the counseling and therapies are definitely working!
This was so accurate. My daughter has autism and the signs and behaviors mentioned were right on point. So true!
Hello I like this article. My oldest daughter has autism. She just turned 7 yesterday. She was diagnosed right before her 3rd birthday even though it took me a whole year to get her diagnosed. I went to 6 different doctors before someone finally listened. All the doctors kept saying of she’s fine she will talk on her own. She regressed and it was like no one believes me. I finally went to the last doctor and when she told me I was right I cried like a baby because it felt like so much was lifted off. She now goes to ECAC which is a super amazing autism center and she has come so far. She still isn’t talking which it really makes me sad because I feel like if those doctors would have listened she would have had a whole year off therapy and to me it feels like it would have made life so different. And I love that your daughter also spins. I’ve never met any other parents who have a child who spins. I’ve always called her my little spinning top. Thank you so much for this article.
I’m so glad you liked this article and even happier to hear your story. Parents are a child’s biggest advocate and your story shows that. You didn’t give up and you fought for your daughter, and that is true love and outstanding parenting. It’s tough knowing a year went by, but just remember how much a difference it has made since her autism diagnosis. Even if she never “speaks” she will learn amazing ways to communicate with you and the world. Keep up the good work!
My daughter was not diagnosed until she was 8. We might have missed it if it wasn’t for her 2nd grade teacher. We knew she had problems dealing with change and very intense emotions but didn’t see a lot of the other symptoms until she was in a classroom setting with 30 kids. Like you, it has been difficult to find much information on girls with autism. Thank you for taking the time to compile this list. I have been looking for something like this to share with my daughters OT at school. She deals typically with boys and doesn’t realize the intense emotions are a part of my daughters autism. It is so beneficial to see other Moms with autistic daughters seeing the same characteristics. Thanks again for sharing.
I’m so glad our story is able to help you some! Autism shows so different in girls and doctors are just now starting to realize this. I can just imagine how a class of 30 would overwhelm your daughter, but the good thing is it led to her diagnosis!
Omg I’m 48 and just realized I have all those symptoms as a child and continues too get worse as an adult and that also described my 24 year old son and my 20 year old daughter but why has the doctors never diagnosed me or my kids with autusm??? I could have been on disability instead of working in factories and being sexually abused by men and constantly fired from jobs or abused by my family !
I am sorry you’ve struggled without help. I was diagnosed at 33, which was after three of my children were diagnosed. My daughters were not diagnosed until 8 & 11, and that was after my son was diagnosed at 23 months. Significant change has happened when it comes to diagnosing girls/women, but there is still much change needed to get everyone the support they need.
I am have just recently requested my granddaughter who I am guardian of, been seen by a gp at our surgery. She shows several traits and a multitude of other little things that have made me concerned. 2 of my 5 sons have Autism (though not the father of my granddaughter) and went to visit a close friend having given her no details of my visit and before the kettle had boiled, she had picked up on what my visit was most likely about, I should have added she has worked with children with SEN most of her adult life in one form or another. We live in the UK and find it very difficult to be taken seriously when a child is under 4, let alone 2, however having been here before I am determined for my granddaughter to have all she needs no matter what issues stand in our way. Thank you for opening up about your own experiences, it has been a most beneficial read.
Wow! For 2 years we fought to get our now 5 yr old evaluated and your blog was like reading about her life! I too have scoured everything I could looking for help but your descriptions are, by far, the most succinct and helpful. Thank you.
My daughter is now almost 30 and was just recently diagnosed with high functioning autism. Ive been reading a lot of articles on diagnosing autism in children and almost always find a few things that I recognized about her childhood. Of the things you mentioned she didn’t really have any of them except the eye contact thing. Boy that one hit me like a ton of bricks because it was one of the most frustrating things she did. She couldn’t look you in the eye for more than a few seconds. For years we thought that meant she had ADHD, but the doctors always said no. Thank you for your article. Even though she didn’t show most of these, it helps put the puzzle together
Well written and to the point. I appreciate the detail in this article!