More and more as I walk through my daily life, I come across girls who are without doubt on the spectrum. Undiagnosed girls with autism who have often accessed PRUs, Specialist schools and uncountable professionals.
Girls and young women who should have been diagnosed long before their path crosses mine.
These girls are not hidden. They are there and very much in the system. But the truth is that all too often professionals simply do not know what to look for.
So here is my guide to things that should act as a potential flag for professionals to look out for when considering whether to refer for a diagnostic assessment.
(Please note this list is not intended as confirmation of diagnosis, rather as a list which suggests that further advice should be sought by Specialist professionals).
Girls with autism may:
Find change difficult.
They may withdraw, refuse to come to school, shut down or become confrontational if changes to their normal routine occur. This can include theoretically positive changes, such as a school outing as well as less preferred activities such as trips.
Like to be pre-warned if things are going to be different.
Even with this warning they will often become anxious about the change. They will often ask multiple questions until they are sure about how it will affect them.
Find friendships challenging.
They may have friends but are likely to try to dominate the friendship, perhaps by talking about the same topic or by wanting to play the same game in the same way. They are likely to struggle with the nuances of social communication and become distressed if things go wrong within the friendship because they are unsure how to fix them.
Have very fixed ideas
And find it difficult if someone else disagrees with those ideas. A normally extremely well behaved child could for example start adamantly disagreeing with the teacher if they feel that something is wrong.
Present very differently at home and at school.
Many children on the spectrum mask their anxieties at school either out of fear of getting in trouble for not conforming to the norm, or out of a desire to appeal ‘normal’ in front of friends. When they arrive home their feelings of anxiety which have built up during the day can then explode, leaving parents struggling to cope. Others cope well in the relatively low pressure environment of home, but struggle to cope in a busy school environment which is full of demands.
Outwardly look very neurotypical.
Reports suggest that girls on the spectrum are often particularly adept at mimicking the behaviour of peers, without necessarily understanding the reasons for that behaviour. Many are very difficult to diagnose on initial assessment because of this, and are likely to need their behaviour observing over an extended period of time by someone with experience in diagnosing girls.
Be desperate to fit in.
And almost try too hard to be part of the group yet never really succeed.
Or withdraw and isolate themselves during social times.
Perhaps choosing to read a book or talk to a member of staff instead of their peers.
Have similar interests to their peers.
With animals, Disney, Harry Potter and particular TV shows being common. Their passion for their subject of interest is likely to be more intense than that of their peers however and may do,image many of their conversations.
Struggle to do well in school during times of anxiety.
Especially when they perceive they are being tested. They may struggle to answer questions verbally under pressure and crumble during written tests despite normally performing well.
Use avoidance strategies.
Such as saying they feel unwell, if put under pressure. This may be done consciously as a deliberate attempt to escape a difficult situation. Or her anxiety levels may be so extreme that she genuinely feels ill.
This list isn’t exhaustive, and most girls will not display all of the characteristics above.
I’m not a diagnostician, just a mum and teacher who has seen may girls on the spectrum come and go.
Someone who thinks it’s time that our girls got the support they need when they are young enough for it to make a difference.
So please if there’s a girl you know who raises questions, don’t just wave her by. Investigate further, refer and ask those questions.
Doing so may just change a life.
Why not join our lovely, friendly Facebook Group full of parents determined to make sure their children are #UNIQUEANDSUCCESSFUL.
If you do want to learn more you might find our autism section a useful place to start. It’s full of different strategies to try out.
Or if you’re looking for more personal support to help you take that action, why not check out our Consultancy Services.