Telltale signs of autism in girls to look out for, as expert warns they are easily missed

By Staff 8 Min Read

Autism is a complex condition that can be usually spotted in early years in children, but can be trickier to spot in girls – but one expert has shared some telltale signs

Autism can be a complex, but one expert has shared a telltale sign of the condition that can be easily missed in girls.

The condition can make social communication difficult, as well as leading to restricted and repetitive patterns, insistence on routine, sensory sensitivity and obsessive or unusual interests according to NHS.

Autistic characteristics are usually spotted in children in pre-school years and there are a range of signs parents might notice such as a lack of eye contact, lack of non-verbal gestures or even difficulty joining in with friends and preferring to be alone. Now expert Conor McDonagh, director of Caerus Therapies, which offers autism assessments and support has shared one of the telltale signs of the condition in girls.

He took to his TikTok to share autism advice and information, and in one particular video, the top five signs of autism in girls. He captioned the video: “These are just some of the signs of autism in females from my perspective,” and reminded his viewers that autism is a “spectrum” so there’s a wide range of signs of symptoms.

While many children will become curious and find out what their likes and interests are, Conor said one sign of autism may be “difficulty with intense interests”.

He said he can often see “difficulties with intense interests” when assessing a child and explained: “So we know that girls on the spectrum often choose socially acceptable interests. So it can be things like Barbie and girls programmes and maybe as they’re older it’s clothing and makeup for example.

“But you will recognise that they have an intense interest in these subjects. So they want to talk about it all the time, they want to read about it and explore it at every opportunity.”

Conor also shared another trait may be that they have difficulty processing sensory information. Conor said another trait “We frequently see is when a girl on the spectrum has difficulties with processing sensory information.” He explained that there are many ways this can be seen, but shared that a girl on the spectrum may have “difficulties” with tolerating loud and sudden sounds.

“They may struggle to focus and concentrate in a busy environment like a classroom, they might be very fussy in particular about the type of clothes that they wear because of how they feel, or they may be poorly coordinated and quite resistant to engaging in sports because they realise maybe they’re not as good as their peers so they choose to stay away from these.”

There were other signs the expert shared such as difficulties with change, difficulty building relationships and also difficulty with nonverbal communication.

It’s important to note autism is on a spectrum and these may not be subject to every child, but it is usually harder to spot in girls. According to the NHS, historically, many girls with autism have not been recognized or diagnosed due to:

  • More subtle presentation.
  • Other diagnoses being used to explain difficulties – autism not being considered as an explanation.

Wales Online reported that mental health problems have often been the primary diagnosis which may have masked the underlying autism. This can result in a lack of appropriate support which in turn can result in loneliness, depression, and social isolation, increased vulnerability in terms of emotional well-being, i.e. self-harm, eating disorders, lowered grades and reduced opportunities in the future.

The National Autistic Society also says there are many theories to explain the diagnosis gap that have been put forward, but none have been conclusively proven. Some of the theories are:

  • a potential ‘female autism phenotype’ – in other words, autistic women and girls have characteristics that don’t fit with the traditional profile of autism
  • autism assessments are less sensitive to autistic traits more commonly found in women and girls
  • women and girls are more likely to ‘mask’ or camouflage their differences
  • autistic traits in girls are under-reported by teachers
  • a range of biological and environmental factors may mean men and boys have a higher prevalence of autism
  • the ‘extreme male brain’ theory of autism, which focuses on the effects of foetal testosterone on brain development

It is important to remember that research and knowledge about autism change constantly. Some of these theories may not reflect how we think about autism today.

If you need any support or advice it’s always recommended to speak to your GP or healthcare advisor. Alternatively, you can find more information here.

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