Common Traits in Autistic Girls
Although there are some shared autistic traits,, many girls and gender diverse people can present differently to the stereotypical, or external autistic presentation. Known as an internalised autistic experience, this presentation is often much harder to identify because autistic individuals who internalise hold their stress and anxiety inside. On the outside, they may appear to be coping well, but internally they may be experiencing intense stress or fear.
- display extreme focus on her special interest (commonly animals, people, nature, books, art)
- be described as being either ‘extremely shy’ or not aware of ‘social boundaries’
- contain her anxiety in public but then melt-down or shut-down once home
- be overly dependent or reliant on one friend who may play a nurturing and protective role, and have trouble coping without them
- be extremely interested in socialising, but unsure how to approach making connections
- have sensory sensitivities (e.g., noise, food, clothing, temperature)
- exhibit extreme reactions to minor events (e.g., changes to the classroom routine) and have difficulty controlling her emotions
- be very controlling in social play with peers and have great difficulty with reciprocal play
- interpret language literally
- be more fluid in her gender identity (e.g., prefers less ‘girly’ clothes or be extremely ‘girly’)
- be extremely empathetic, nurturing and sensitive
- have a great attention to detail
- appear to have a good imagination8
- be a perfectionist in some areas and at the same time be disorganised with basic routine tasks
- prefer playing with boys in physical activities and may be perceived as being a `tomboy’. This may be because she sees girls as too socially demanding.
I am now paying the price as an adult, having gone through school as an undiagnosed autistic girl and feeling isolated and trying to be anyone else other than myself just to fit in. I am now working with a psychologist to undo 20 years of emotional damage and abuse that I've inflicted on myself. The damage of believing the labels given to me over the years by my peers and teachers that I was rude, naughty, lazy and odd. If only they knew the toll it was taking on me and how these labels have negatively shaped how I view myself now as an adult.
I don't want my daughter to go through the same thing. I want her to feel like she can be herself and be proud of who she is. I want teachers to be able to understand her and look beyond the surface and realise the immense power they have to shape her future self-worth.
Teresa, mum to girl 13 years old. Both have an Autism diagnosis
The list provides general information on some of the common traits that may be found in autistic girls, but it is not intended to be exclusive, and the information contained may also be relevant to autistic boys and gender-diverse autistic individuals. This list has been developed with the help of clinical psychologists Dr Danuta Bulhak-Paterson, and Dr Janine Manjiviona. This list is for information purposes only, and should not be used as a diagnostic checklist. Please refer to a clinician for further information.
8. (Honeyborne 2015)