Common Challenges At School
Social communication differences and a possible lack of understanding of the ‘hidden curriculum’ impact on the peer relationships of autistic girls.13
Autistic girls often find forming friendships difficult. They want to experience friendship in the way their peers do but they may not have the innate skills to make the relationships work.14 Autistic girls mask this challenge as they are more able to follow social actions by imitation, observation and copying other children.15
Gloria Staios has more than 30 years of experience as a speech language pathologist and is the co-owner of Spectrum Speech - a clinic which focusses on and conducts social skill programs for autistic girls. In this video she talks about navigating peer relationships and the challenges that girls face around making and maintaining friendships.
In my experience, autistic girls can have many different types of relationships. I have seen girls be very attached to one person, or have difficulty establishing any friendships at all. Then there are the girls who float between groups, known as the 'floater'. They appear to have many friends, but if you look closer, they never spend enough time with any particular group to establish meaningful connections.
Girls are often more aware of and feel a need to interact socially. They are involved in social play, but may be led by their peers rather than initiating social contact. In our society girls are expected to be social in their communication, therefore there may be more challenges in this area that need support. Whilst you may help them widen their friendship circle, it's important to remember they may be happy with their less demanding, casual friendships.
Interacting is mentally draining. At school I was often misunderstood as being deﬁant or insensitive. Most of the time, I was simply processing conversations differently. What came naturally to my peers, I struggled with. I spent a lot of energy trying to understand and process the words people were saying, the context they were being spoken in, the tone, facial expressions, physical gestures, and body language to even get close to working out their feelings, and intentions. At the same time, I had to formulate how I was feeling, and how I was going to reply. There were so many nonverbal cues that went over my head, and I am sure many of those led to many of my social struggles. I was very bright, but because of these hidden processing differences, many of my peers and teachers assumed that I had chosen to misinterpret instructions or not act what was socially acceptable. This was my hidden disability.
Further recommendations on this topic
- Watch : Hannah Arbuthnott talk about peer relationships
(Part 1) – 6.47 mins
- Watch : Hannah Abuthnott talk about navigating friendships
(Part 2) – 4.51 mins
- Watch : Melissa Juzva talk about upskilling girls to help them navigate friendships – 21.33 mins
- Read the fact sheet for more tips and strategies : Peer Relationships.pdf
13. Head, A., McGillivray, J. & Stokes, M. (2014). Cox, I., McGillivray, J., Manjiviona, J., Bulhak-Paterson, D.T.& Stokes, M.A. (2017). 14. Attwood 2007; Beteta 2009 15. Attwood 2007, Head, A., McGillivray, J. & Stokes, M. (2014).