Think you know about girls on the autism spectrum? Well, think again.
Here are five myths you may have heard about that need to be reconsidered when we think about girls who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (AS), “mild autism,” or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) level 1. This information comes from original research done as part of my Master’s in Autism Studies (De Silva, 2016).
There is not enough research out there on what females on the spectrum think about their own lives and experience; my research was intended to start the process of talking to the girls themselves, and not talking to the myths about the girls that exist out there. Thank you to the girls/women who participated in the survey and for their original thoughts that formed the basis for this myth busting article.
Myth #1: Girls with autism are not social
Not so! They may be unsuccessfully social. That is a very different thing to being unsocial. Sometimes it is easier for teachers and school personnel to tell themselves that girls with AS are not social, and are happy alone, but this is simply not so in most cases. When girls are on their own most of the time staff should provide social support, as everyone needs social contact in the course of their day. Girls with AS can sometimes feel invisible, and it may be that their social interaction in the course of a school day is with staff instead of other students. This is okay as long as there is interaction and a chance to speak up and be counted with fellow humans.
Myth #2: Girls with autism don’t need friends
Everyone needs friends. Girls with Asperger’s syndrome really want friends and may be very lonely if they don’t have them. These girls want friends, and most of them want to belong to groups. If they don’t belong to groups, they are aware of the behavior of girls who are in those groups. They know all about social things: they just may not be included in the social side of life. Girls with AS may need help to make friends, or be included in groups; staff should try and facilitate genuine inclusion.
Myth #3: Girls with autism are all opinionated and pushy
Not so! This is definitely not the case! Some girls are strong-minded and opinionated. They like to share what they know. Other girls are very, very quiet and overly sensitive. Most girls with autism are quiet if they don’t fit in and are the opposite of pushy-they are withdrawn and sad. That’s the same as girls who don’t have autism who don’t fit into groups.
Girls with AS may be unwilling to compromise on some of their ideas about how other girls behave. They may be disappointed about how members of groups interact. They do not want to be on the outside of groups—they want to be in them…sometimes. Girls want to belong in groups that feel safe and where they are valued, just the same as neurotypical girls do.
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Myth #4: Girls with autism prefer best friends
Not so! Many girls prefer best friends; other girls want to be included in groups. Girls with autism need to belong and need to be included for emotional well-being, the same as anyone else. They may prefer small groups, or friends they trust, but they also benefit from fitting in with a peer group. Belonging and fitting is important for everyone. Girls with AS are individuals, with individual personalities and needs-their needs can’t be stereotyped.
Myth #5: Girls with autism don’t notice social games
This is part of the idea that girls with autism don’t know if other girls are being mean or if they are being fake. Sure, these girls don’t use these social games, but they sure do notice other girls playing games and being mean to each other. Girls with AS prefer to make safe friends because they are usually pretty honest and won’t be involved in playing social games.
So, here’s what you need to remember about girls on the autism spectrum: they will surprise you, they have their own different personalities that affect their reactions to social things, and they are interested in social interactions. This means they think about social interactions, worry about social events and walk away with ideas about what they could do better socially or what they wish others would do better socially. Keep the myths in mind and take care to remember the person you know who is on the autism spectrum is a person first, who has autism second. All people need quality social interactions, including people with autism.
This article was featured in Issue 86 – Working Toward a Healthy Life with ASD