Girls and Autism: Empowered

For too long, Aspergers girls and women have ‘flown under the radar’.

Fortunately, that trend is beginning to change. With increased awareness of Aspergers comes research into some of the sub-domains of the syndrome.

I recently read the following question on an Aspergers community page:

How do symptoms in girls present themselves differently from boys with AS? Please share your experiences here.

That question alone resulted in 56 comments!

girls autism spectrum empowered

Girls and Autism Spectrum: Statistics

In a video interview, Craig Evans asked psychologist Tony Attwood about the ratio of men versus women diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. In general, the consensus has been 4:1. However, Dr. Attwood feels that the ratio, globally, is more like 2:1.

Why Are More Women And Girls Being Diagnosed?

There is no simple answer. One reason is that clinicians are becoming more attuned to the symptoms of autism spectrum conditions. Another reason is that many women, after learning about their children’s diagnosis, start to recognize the same characteristics in themselves: suddenly their own lives make a lot more sense through the lens of autism spectrum conditions. Finally, author Rudy Simone proposes a third reason in her book, Aspergirls: Empowering Females with Asperger Syndrome:

The high stress life of the modern world, coupled with an emphasis on a person’s social confidence, has made those of us on the spectrum feel our differences more keenly. This has caused us to seek answers – via the internet and books — leading to diagnosis.

How Are Girls Different?

How Are Aspergirls Different Than Boys With Aspergers Syndrome?

Similarities

Well, girls on the autism spectrum are different, but also similar. The are the same as boys on the autism spectrum in terms of the characteristics they share. These characteristics can be positive, but they can also present many challenges for both genders: depression, sensory issues, difficulty with employment, difficulty cultivating relationships.

Differences

According to Tony Attwood and Rudy Simone, girls have a tendency to be able to better mask their symptoms and mimic social cues. (This is a generalization: there will always be exceptions to the rule.) Because of this tendency to better “blend in”, girls’ symptoms are often not recognized until their teenage years.

Dr. Attwood and Ms. Simone also point out that many Asperger girls tend to become somewhat introverted or resort to their strong imaginative worlds. Per Ms. Simone:

The Aspergirl, by necessity and exclusion, if not by choice, has more time to devote to her inner life and to her goals. For the Aspergirl, everything seems to be about purpose and reason, which we don’t always find in the trappings of this noisy, chaotic, confusing world. So we create our own world to do our own thing, and so live isolated lives, never engaging with others as perhaps we could or want to.

According to Dr. Attwood, if a girl is quiet and introverted, there can be a gender bias that helps her remain invisible. Many cultures almost expect boys to be more outgoing and involved in sports and other activities. So if they are quiet and withdrawn, they stand out more. However, these same attributes can be regarded as ‘ladylike’ for a girl.

A girl on the autism spectrum may face similar challenges a boy will, but sometimes to a more stressful degree. For instance, the social world of girls can be a lot more complex than that of boys: more complex and intricate. As a result, a girl with Asperger’s may be subject to a lot more bullying than boys.

Also, because more boys than girls are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, it may be harder for girls to find social skills groups in which they feel welcome. It may also be more challenging for them to find other autism spectrum girls to befriend and relate to.

Aspergirls: Unite and Be Proud

I absolutely love the way Liane Holliday Willey described her daughter’s perception of the term Aspergirls: like a sort of superhero. Girls on the autism spectrum certainly have a host of positive characteristics and traits to be proud of. Unfortunately, every superhero has her Kryptonite: areas of growth and situations which can undermine their power: bullying, self-esteem, anxiety attacks, depression, melt-downs, and so forth.

That’s why even superheroes need support. Together with others, they can do the work in the world they were created to do.

Read and Learn About Aspergirls Role Models

Here are some of my favorite Aspergirl role models:

Rudy Simone, author of Aspergirls, Asperger’s On the Job, and 22 Things A Woman Must Know: If She Loves A Man On With Asperger’s Syndrome.

Liane Holliday Willey, author of her own biography, Pretending To Be Normal: Living With Asperger’s Syndrome.

Penelope Trunk, entrepreneur and author of the highly successful blog, The Brazen Careerist.

Lynne Soraya writes beautifully about “life through the lens of Asperger’s Syndrome” on her Psychology Today blog, Asperger’s Diary.

Temple Grandin, PhD, opened my eyes to the world of the autism spectrum when I read her book, Thinking in Pictures.

And you might enjoy reading about Heather Kuzmich, one brave woman who faced her fears and tried out for America’s Next Top Model.

Connect On Safe Forums

Women with Asperger’s may enjoy connecting with other women at the site at Wrong Planet, a forum started by Alex Plank. There are also a number of Facebook groups and pages devoted to people on the autism spectrum.

Parents, for your girls and tweens age 9 and older, you may want to consider the Squag.Com community.

From the About Squag page:

[skwag] is a customized application for tweenagers on the autism spectrum to connect with one another. It was built on three guiding principles:

Sensory

Squag™ eliminates outside noise by simulating a sun-lit room with visual simplicity and clean animation. We’ve removed the distraction of pop-ups and advertising and designed intuitive Squagpads™ where users can focus on building a sense of self and creating friendships.

Security

Security is our first priority. Squag encourages parents to keep up to date on their child’s activities online. Our application was designed to make it easy for parents to be involved. See security policy here.

Community

The ASD community is a special one. A parent’s best support comes from other parents going through the same thing. We believe that our kids would benefit from that support system too. Squag&trade gives users the opportunity to reach out from the comfort of their own homes, during their downtime, after a long day at school.

Who Squags?

Squag&trade was created for kids 9+ anywhere on the autism spectrum who:

  • Have special interests that are different from their peers in daily life
  • Are being marginalized or bullied at school
  • Could benefit from more processing time when communicating
  • Are home schooled and need a supportive peer group

We’ve given them their own community online, to break down the idea of social networking into small, manageable chunks.

Other Miscellaneous Empowerment Tips from Dr. Attwood:

  • Get to know a peer in your girl’s community and/or classroom who can serve as a ‘safe’ or ‘social’ buddy. Many neurotypical children either have siblings with different conditions, or they just may be more sensitive and able to serve as friends. This is a type of cultural exchange that helps an NT learn about the gifts of AS, and vice versa.
  • Look for opportunities to partner with the school social worker, resource teacher, or principal in educating your girl’s classmates about the characteristics of Aspergers. Can I Tell You About Asperger Syndrome?: A Guide for Friends and Family is an excellent book for doing this.
  • Find a female counselor who specializes in working with autism spectrum conditions to work with your child. This counselor can help you navigate your child through her phases of development. She may also be able to form skills groups with other Aspergirls, so that girls can have peers that they can relate to in a safe environment.

Summary

Aspergirls are heroes who can do great good in the world by being themselves. They will have challenges to overcome, but they have forerunners who have pioneered the way into a greater understanding of their unique strengths and weaknesses.

I urge you, as a parent, to help your child understand how great she is, how unique she is, and how strong she will continue to become as she unites with both other Aspies and other NT’s and takes pride in herself.

photo credit: fallenangel_brokenwings

Key Resources Used To Research This Article:

Aspergirls: Empowering Females with Asperger Syndrome, by Rudy Simone.

The following video from Tony Attwood, as interviewed by Autism Hangout’s Craig Evans.

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I'm Steve Borgman. I'm a licensed clinical professional counselor and blogger committed to bringing you hope, understanding, and solutions that you can apply to your life immediately.

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