Why are so many autistic girls missed in school?

These are the summary notes for the course “Why are so Many Autistic Girls Missed in School?” which can be accessed by all members or via a 2 week free trial.

AUTISTIC GIRLS CAN BE HARD TO SPOT

Autism was originally believed to be a condition that only affected males.  As such, the diagnostic criteria are all skewed towards a typical male presentation.  Many girls (and some boys) do not present in this way and can be easily missed. 

  • Girls are often first diagnosed or misdiagnosed with a variety or mental health issues
  • Girls are great imitators and learn to copy others so we are less likely to pick up on issues
  • Girls learn to ‘mask’ from an early age, hiding their difficulties in engaging with the world
  • Special interests in girls are often far more socially acceptable e.g. animals, ballet, popstars
  • Girls can be ‘hyper-emotional’ which is the opposite of what we may ‘expect’ to see in autism

SIGNS TO LOOK OUT FOR

There are several signs that can help us to pick up on possible autism in girls but remember, once you’ve met one autistic person,  you’ve met one autistic person…. So this is not a fail safe list! It is also possible (indeed common) for a young person to be both autistic and to have other co-occurring issues including a range of mental health and learning related issues as well as questions around gender and identity.  (It is of interest to note that the statistics for gender dysphoria are incredibly high amongst the autistic population compared to neurotypical peers. 

  • Anxiety…. ASD + anxiety go together like peas and carrots sadly…
  • Many come across as shy or quiet
  • May go to great lengths to avoid certain places / people / situations
  • Dual personality – seems fine at school but struggles at home 
  • Directing and controlling play & conversation, unresponsive to ideas of others
  • Avid readers (girls often learn a lot about ‘how to be’ from reading fiction)
  • Struggle with friendships from about age 9 or 10 (when others get fed up for being directed)
  • Becomes overwhelmed sometimes and either shuts down or melts down
  • Academically able but inflexible / perfectionist

PRACTICAL STRATEGIES FOR SUPPORTING

It’s important to note that the path to diagnosis is long, and the support we can put in place does no harm, so if autism is a possibility and school, family and the child are all on board, supporting a child ‘as if’ autistic can make a big difference to their ability to thrive in school.  A key issues with autistic girls is that they are often bright and compliant and terrified of getting things wrong, which often means that they excel in the classroom and aren’t seen as a ‘problem’ and we assume that they are managing in all areas of their life.  But their academic intelligence may not be matched by their emotional intelligence and if they are not supported to thrive, then over time pervasive anxiety and exhaustion can begin to impact on every domain of their lives.

  • Work with family – believe them, listen to them, work together as a team around the child
  • Emotional literacy and regulation – having the skills to change how they feel is like a superpower
  • A calm environment or safe space to retreat to which is not overwhelming
  • Regular ‘mini resets’ to restore calm and help to emotionally regulate
  • Learning about friendships – how to make friends and be a good friend
  • Support finding and making friends with common interests

TAKING A STRENGTHS BASED APPROACH

Whilst autism brings challenges with it, it also brings great strengths.  Autistic girls are often kind and loyal friends, capable learners with huge depths of knowledge and understanding on particular topics.  By helping autistic girls (and in fact all girls, and boys!) to understand themselves a little better and lean into their strengths rather than being defined by their challenges, we can help them to thrive as the wonderful individuals they are. 

  • Autism is not something to be ashamed of – talk about it – many girls love to teach others about it
  • Read ‘M is for Autism’ and ‘M in the Middle’ as a spring board for conversation and inspiration
  • Look for autistic role models – e.g. Siena Castellon who published a brilliant book at 17
  • Special interests may be the springboard for friendships or careers
  • Work with her to define her strengths and quirks, return to these often, they are her awesome…

LINKS & THINGS… 

On Demand Video Courses

Understand Autistic Masking: https://www.creativeeducation.co.uk/courses/understand-autistic-masking/    

Spot and Support Autism: https://www.creativeeducation.co.uk/courses/spot-and-support-autism/

Promote Emotional Regulation in Autistic Children: https://www.creativeeducation.co.uk/courses/promote-emotional-regulation-in-autistic-children/

Books I’d recommend

The Spectrum Girls’ Survival Guide by 17 year old Siena Castellon – https://amzn.to/2U8NC3f 
M is for Autism by the girls at Limpsfield Grange – https://amzn.to/3eEg0no 
M in the Middle (the follow up) – https://amzn.to/3ldPgN5 
Education and girls on the autism spectrum (this is brilliant) – https://amzn.to/38rWklG 
Aspergirls by Rudy Simone – https://amzn.to/35cxtjs 
Girls Growing up on the Autism Spectrum – https://amzn.to/3eFe2TL

My YouTube Videos

AUTISM | meltdown & shutdown – what does it mean and how do I help?

TRY THIS? | Emotion works – a resource for supporting children with autism

I’M AUTISTIC | Here are 3 ways you can help me

Inclusion using the Low Arousal Approach – Pooky talks to Gareth Morewood