As a result of the social norms of the time, the earliest assessments for Asperger’s Syndrome / Autism were designed with boys in mind. Girls were unlikely to be identified through these assessments, as the presentation of girls with autism differs from that of boys.
Research from Cambridge University published in March 2021, suggests that approximately one in 57 children are on the autistic spectrum, so it is important that schools are aware of the variety of ways in which children with autism behave. Many autistic girls slip through the net, as a result of being diagnosed with anxiety and depression rather than autistic traits.
One reason for this is that girls with autism tend to be better at masking than boys. Masking is the term used when a child or young person expends huge amounts of energy trying to behave in a socially accepted way. Maintaining these high levels of conventional behaviour is exhausting, and it is this constant effort to suppress their real personality and feelings in order to fit in, that causes their anxiety and depression.
Holly Smale, the bestselling author of the Geek Girls series, has recently been diagnosed with autism at the age of 39. In an article in the Sunday Times, (22.5.21), Holly describes her masking efforts.
‘It was incredibly hard work and inside I was a exhausted jittery mess, but I didn’t care as long as I passed for a regular human.’
Autistic girls will confess to feeling uncomfortable in social situations, disliking small talk, and realise that they can appear emotionally cold and somewhat odd to others. However, their passion for particular subjects of personal interest will lead to in-depth expertise, they will possess an extraordinarily accurate memory, and an ability to hyper-focus on their specific interest or area of work.
As Joan Micklewright, Chair of AspieUK says; ‘Most people who contributed anything meaningful to society probably had Asperger’s.’
In an accepting and supportive environment, girls on the autistic spectrum will blossom, and society benefit from their original and innovative female perspective.