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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.

Understanding Autism

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 speech at 19 months, it was enough to send us straight to the autism center for a diagnosis at 23 months.

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 autism spectrum disorder or any symptoms that are not “normal,” please contact your doctor. Only a licensed professional can provide an autism diagnosis.


Intense emotions

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.

Speech delay

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.

Sensory Needs

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.

Autism Symptoms in Girls: After our girls were diagnosed with autism, I realized how little information there is on how autism affects girls compared to boys.

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.

Empathy/Sympathy

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.

Sleep Issues

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.

Anxiety

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.

Twirling

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.”

Autism Symptoms in Girls: After our girls were diagnosed with autism, I realized how little information there is on how autism affects girls compared to boys.

Clumsy

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.”

Little Parent

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.

Symptoms of Autism in Girls: New research suggests that current diagnostic methods overlook girls, and this has been our experience with three girls on the spectrum in one family.  Learn how autism presents differently in girls, and why many autistic women & girls go misdiagnosed for years due to the lack of real awareness #autism #autismingirls #autismparenting #asd

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.

Coping Skills

Unexpected transitions and a lack of proper coping skills is a real problems. There is a lot of frustration when she feels she does not have enough time to finish what she wants. This is not based on actual time but perceived time.

Nature Focused

She relates to nature more than other people. She would rather talk to any animal than a person. Her interest in the outdoors is very intense and very knowledgeable.

Symptoms of Autism in Girls: New research suggests that current diagnostic methods overlook girls, and this has been our experience with three girls on the spectrum in one family.  Learn how autism presents differently in girls, and why many autistic women & girls go misdiagnosed for years due to the lack of real awareness #autism #autismingirls #autismparenting #asd

Struggles with Communication

Another autism symptom in girls is that many struggle significantly with conversations. Our daughter does talk a lot now, more than most. However, she tends to start midway through or mid-sentence when she initiates a conversation. She has a tough time starting a conversation, which gives her the appearance of being shy.

Conclusion

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

Alicia Trautwein is an Autism advocate, writer, motivational speaker, and dedicated mom of four. Alicia’s desire to advocate for Autism comes from her own autism diagnosis and that of her three children, niece, and brother. Her life’s mission is to educate on autism acceptance and change the world for future generations of autistic individuals.

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