Monday, August 31, 2015
How are girls with autism different than boys with autism?
A good question was posed by my father recently. He asked me what I had found over the years made autism different when shown in girls as opposed to boys. I had some ideas, based on talking (mostly online!) to other mothers of autistic girls, but I wanted to find out more, so I reached out to people who are members of the Facebook group that is a companion to this blog, and I got some great responses!
A BIG NOTE HERE! I am NOT an expert on autism or autism in girls! ANOTHER BIG NOTE! Everything I note here is NOT TRUE OF ALL GIRLS! For everyone that had an idea for a trait that was different in girls, there were others who saw the opposite trait. And there's the old saying "You've seen one child with autism, you've seen one child with autism", meaning kids with autism are NOT homogeneous! They are very different from each other. But I think it's worthwhile to collect some ideas and trends I've seen, if only to spark conversation!
The first difference with girls is one of the few that I've been actually told by someone who IS an autism expert, a specialist at a clinic we take Janey too. I've also read a few studies that say something similar---girls with autism, statistically, are more severely affected by autism than boys. Of course, there's many ways to look at being severely affected. You can't just say on a scale of 1 to 100 how severely affected someone is. But if you looked at the impact of autism on a life, and perhaps looked at the likelihood of a child someday living independently, overall, I think girls would be seen as more severely affected. Not every girl, of course, but as a group.
Another difference mentioned by quite a few people was that girls with autism seem to be more social than boys with autism, or they want to have friends more. They often have good eye contact, and are good at imitating social speech, even if what they are saying is echolalia from TV shows or videos. This can make them seem more verbal than they really are. They often want very much to have friends, but aren't sure how to go about it.
In terms of sensory issues, there's a LOT of girls that do have severe sensory issues, but many also that don't. They seem less bothered as a group by noises, and often are less picky eaters than boys with autism. It seems a few more of them are sensory seekers, which can be an issue in itself---they like things like hot sauce or smashing into things.
Girls with autism often seem to not have the extreme need for routine that boys do. They are more willing to go along with changes in the day's routine. This being said, many girls with autism are prone to MAJOR mood swings, which could be wrongly interpreted as being caused by routine changes. I've talked to quite a few women with older girls that said puberty was extremely, extremely tough, with PMS being almost unbearable.
Many girls with autism are very affectionate. They like people, and want to be around people they especially like. I have seen this very much in Janey. She has a few favorite people, and asks about them constantly. Other girls also seem to have people that are very, very special to them.
In terms of speech, for the girls that are verbal, nearly every person I've ever talked to has told me their girls use a great deal of echolalia. A very lot of their speech is scripted in some way, but often used very appropriately. For example, if they want to say they are sorry about something, they might say "I'm terribly sorry I disturbed you", a line from a video they've watched over and over, but also pretty much saying what they want to say!
Another point a lot of people noted is that their girls don't have special interests as much as boys they know or have heard of. Many, many boys with autism have a very major special interest---trains, dinosaurs, drains, bridges, whatever---but I have not heard of many girls that has an overriding interest like this.
Although there are many, many more traits I'd love to have people tell me about, there is something odd I've noticed from pictures I've seen of girls with autism. Many of them look alike. It's hard to put my finger on, because of course girls with autism come in all kinds of colors and hair tones and heights and weights and so on. But there is somehow a look they share. It's a beautiful look! But there's more to it---a way they smile, a look to their hair, a way of holding themselves---that just makes them look a bit like relatives.
The biggest difference between girls and boys with autism, as you might have guessed from the name of my blog, is that autism is rarer in girls. The CDC says that 1 in 42 boys have autism, while 1 in 189 girls do. That makes autism almost 5 times more common in boys. Way back when Janey was first diagnosed and I was picking a name for this blog, I went with Rarer In Girls. Rare can mean several things. Maybe for tonight, I'll go with the 3rd definition that came up on a quick Google search for the meaning of the word---"unusually good or remarkable" Our girls, I think we can all agree, are remarkable.