Autism Symptoms in Girls

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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

Autism now affects 1 in 59 children in the United States.  There is a ton of information out there on symptoms, but those symptoms seem very specific to boys.  Only in the last few years has there been true research to understand the Symptoms of Autism in Girls.

Along the journey to our daughter’s diagnosis, I desperately looked for information online of 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 a diagnosis on the spectrum (until the DSM 5), it is not the only form of autism a female can have.

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

Understanding Autism

While autism does present differently in girls, there are still core symptoms associated with autism no matter what 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

Symptoms of Autism in Girls – It’s Different!

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, and so on.  

Both of our daughter’s journeys were very different.  We received a diagnosis for them at age 8 & 11! My own autism diagnosis came at age 33! As you can imagine, autism symptoms in girls can be different enough to impact diagnosis!

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
cute happy girl playing in kindergarten for kids with special needs

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 quite similar to my personal experiences, as well as 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 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 2 years old.  She still has a lisp and has trouble with “r”  and “l” sounds that are in the middle of the word.

Sensory Needs

When it comes to touch, she has to have very soft clothing with no tags.  When it comes to noise, she is quite the opposite of my son with autism.  Overwhelming noise and sight actually make her hyper. Rarely those will cause a meltdown like emotionally & social situations.  Instead, she starts twirling, jumping, running, bouncing, and speaking extremely loud for the situation

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
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 definitely 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 on her own or at a reasonable time.

Anxiety

Her anxiety can be quiet bad at times.  This is a separate diagnosis as well, but a lot of it stems from not understanding things. Tasks were often completely ignored by her, 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”

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
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 we come across is her being “bossy” and “controlling.”

Little Parent

She doesn’t understand relationships and tries to act like a parent to older siblings as well as adults.  Even when speaking to adults, she does not speak as if she is a child.

Can’t Let Go

This is a big one.  No matter how small the issue may be to us if she feels she has been wronged she cannot let it go, even after a solution has been given.  This also includes not being able to understand when something isn’t an issue that involves her.

Best Friend Issues

This is where we have a hard time understanding that not only can we have more than one friend, but our friends can also have other friends. Often times, 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 didn’t notice.  She as adapted well without early intervention but struggles with keeping eye contact. Most times, she will make eye contact briefly once and rarely again in the remainder of a conversation.  

I only began to notice 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 hard.  Most of her interests are similar to other girls her age, however, the intensity in those interests is much more.  She loves tiny puppy dolls, but she has a collection of over 100 and knows every detail about every one of 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, just collects) as well as 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 problem.  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 in 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 greatly with conversations.  Our daughter does talk a lot now, more than most.  However, when she initiates a conversation, she tends to start midway
through or mid-sentence.  She has a very hard time starting a conversation, which in return 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 key!

TheMomKind

Alicia Trautwein is an autism parenting coach living in Missouri. She is the creator behind The Mom Kind, a website dedicated to parenting neurodiverse families.  She is featured in the "Amazing Moms" coffee table book by Hogan Hilling & Dr. Elise Ho.  She shares her expertise along with her experience in parenting children, both with and without autism.

13 thoughts on “Autism Symptoms in Girls

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. This was so accurate. My daughter has autism and the signs and behaviors mentioned were right on point. So true!

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

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