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Autism in Girls: Signs, Diagnosis, and Treatment

December 14, 2023

Are you a parent with a daughter who you think could be on the autism spectrum? Perhaps you don’t know where to start when it comes to understanding autism in girls. Don’t worry, you are not alone.

Research suggests that the criteria for an autism diagnosis are based on scientific evidence of autism in boys. Because of this, many girls on the spectrum are left to go through life without the support and help they might need.

To help girls on the spectrum receive an autism diagnosis quicker, parents need to be aware of the possible signs of autism in women. We’re here to help you get the answers you need.

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What Are the Signs of Autism in Girls – Is Asperger’s in Girls Overlooked?

What Are the Signs of Autism in Girls?

The diagnostic criteria for autism are mostly based on research on boys diagnosed with autism rather than females. Because of that, many girls are not diagnosed with ASD (or Asperger’s Syndrome) until they are teens

In many cases, girls with autism at a younger age show more capacity, compared to boys, to interact in social settings. On top of that, they can often make and maintain friendships at a young age.

However, if undiagnosed, autism symptoms in women become more evident as they reach adolescence, highlighting the diverse nature of the autism spectrum.

Although autism is more difficult to spot in girls than boys, there are some signs you can look out for:

  • Social skills and communication challenges

Girls with autism may struggle with maintaining eye contact, processing social events through daydreaming, and may show difficulty in forming intimate social interactions. They may also exhibit lower verbal cognitive ability, literal understanding of information, and communication difficulties.

  • Sensory processing issues

Sensory challenges, such as difficulties with intense lighting, sound, or touch, are common in autism. Women with autism may engage in self-regulation through stimming, meltdowns, or self-injurious behaviors in response to sensory inputs.

  • Behavioral challenges

Girls with autism can sometimes act out or show aggressive behaviors. This can occur when they are trying to communicate something or when there’s a sensory problem that they’re trying to regulate. Alternatively, it can be due to a physiological or health-related problem.

  • Visual thinking

Female autism may represent itself in visual thinking. Visual thinking allows some with autism to conceptualize patterns and solve complex problems.

One of the most famous women with autism, Temple Grandin, Ph.D., was nonverbal for the first three and a half years of her life. She developed her social skills and attained a doctoral degree in animal science, where she began to pioneer revolutionary concepts due to her ability to think in pictures.

  • Special interests and obsessions

Autistic women often develop special interests and obsessions. While girls may have more socially acceptable interests, such as celebrities, these passions can still indicate autism and may be overlooked in diagnosis.

Why Autism in Women Goes Undiagnosed

Girls are often underdiagnosed with autism because current diagnostic criteria are more aligned with how autism is expressed in boys. Research indicates that for every one female diagnosed with autism, at least three males receive a diagnosis.

Some argue that girls may have traits that protect them from developing autism, while others believe that more girls might have autism but go undiagnosed due to biases in current diagnostic criteria.

The favored argument is that girls may exhibit behaviors that mask typical autism traits, making them less apparent and leading to underdiagnosis.

How Do Girls Mask Their Autism Traits?

Girls with autism often hide their traits through a practice known as camouflaging or masking. This behavior arises from societal expectations and cultural pressure to exhibit “right behaviors.”

Autistic girls may mimic others in social situations, like copying facial expressions and making intentional eye contact, even if it causes internal discomfort or anxiety.

They may also suppress stimming behaviors, like hand-flapping or providing scripted responses, to fit in and avoid standing out. They often learn these strategies from peers or media.

According to a 2020 study published by Springer, masking or camouflaging has detrimental mental, physical, and emotional effects. This is because masking is characterized by constant monitoring of what are deemed to be socially acceptable behaviors. Masking is also related to higher rates of depression and feelings of being an outcast.

The Psychological Impact of Late Autism Diagnosis in Girls

Research published by Springer and SageJournals revealed that many older autistic girls and women were diagnosed with autism later in adulthood. Despite years of therapy, health professionals often failed to recognize the possibility of an autism diagnosis.

Some were misdiagnosed with other conditions, including personality disorders, as professionals hesitated to diagnose girls based on the stereotype of severe social and communication problems.

Girl with mental health issues

This delayed diagnosis led to emotional distress, including anger and regret, as they tried to conform to societal expectations.

The study also found that almost all older girls reported experiencing mental health difficulties, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and even suicide attempts or self-harm.

How Can an Autism Diagnosis Help a Girl With Autism?

Similar to males with autism, early intervention is crucial for women and girls. An early diagnosis provides timely access to therapies and resources, helping the individual and their family learn how to manage autism.

Even if diagnosed later in life, it’s still valuable, as delayed diagnosis can lead to issues like poor self-esteem, depression, and vulnerability to bullying.

While those diagnosed later may need to catch up on social skills and coping mechanisms, most women and girls find relief and support after receiving their diagnosis.

Meeting with autism experts, therapists, and other professionals can provide valuable assistance for long-term well-being.

Support For Girls with Autism

For girls with autism or undiagnosed autism, finding support is crucial. If you’re looking for assistance, consider the following:

  • Joining support groups or communities: You can connect with like-minded individuals facing similar challenges.
  • Reading books and articles about the female autism experience: “The Spectrum Girl’s Survival Guide” is written by Siena Castellon. She’s a girl with autism who, at a young age, is using her platform to give a voice to autistic girls worldwide.
  • Talking to health professionals: Doctors, therapists, or counselors may have the answers you seek.
  • Taking social skills classes: Social classes can help girls navigate challenging situations and build relationships.
  • Finding the right therapy: Therapies such as Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) or talk therapy can be beneficial. Occupational therapy (OT) is another option for learning essential skills for daily life.

Girls with co-occurring disorders, such as OCD and anorexia or trauma survivors, may need more specialists on their team.

As more girls receive an ASD diagnosis, specialists are becoming more aware of the unique way girls on the autism spectrum present and are developing new ways to help them thrive.

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Autism Treatment for Girls

Autism treatment for girls can be highly effective in reducing some autistic traits. It involves a tailored approach that considers their unique needs and challenges. 

Some of the most common strategies include:

  • behavioral interventions,
  • speech therapy, and
  • occupational therapy.

Finding the right approach can greatly improve their social skills, communication, and daily living. The good news is – girls with autism can benefit from similar treatments as boys on the spectrum would.

Advice for Parents of Autistic Girls

Being normal is subjective to society’s depiction of normal and our bias. When we remove the presumption of how one should act or behave, we learn to understand that each individual is different.

Encourage your child to be comfortable being themselves, fostering an open environment at home. Listen to your daughter, paying attention to both verbal and nonverbal cues, such as body language.

Parents are responsible for protecting their children and ensuring their development is supported. Most importantly, if you have a niggling feeling that your daughter could be on the spectrum, do your research and seek professional help.

Trust your parental intuition, and don’t give up on your search for answers.


Q: How does autism present in females?

A: Women with autism may show unique characteristics that differ from autistic men and boys. They might appear to be more social, but this could be because they tend to ‘mask’ their autistic traits. This often leads to stress and anxiety and has serious consequences for their mental health.

Q: How common is autism in girls?

A: According to the CDC and ADDM’s data collected from 2020, boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder than girls. Approximately 4 out of 100 boys and 1 out of 100 girls have autism.

Q: Do girls outgrow autism?

A: Autism doesn’t go away. However, with early diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan, language, and behavioral issues can be reduced to a point where they no longer meet the autism criteria.

Q: What are the early signs of autism in girls?

A: Early signs of autism in girls may include social challenges, communication differences, and sensory sensitivities. These signs often become apparent in early childhood.

Q: What are the signs of Asperger’s in teenage girls?

A: Signs of Asperger’s in teenage girls may include challenges with social interactions, difficulty understanding nonverbal cues, and intense focus on specific interests. Girls with Asperger’s might also exhibit rigid routines and struggle with changes in routine or unexpected situations.

Q: How is treatment for autism different between girls and boys?

A: Treatment for autism is generally similar between girls and boys, focusing on their individual needs. Tailoring interventions to address specific aspects of autism ensures effective support for both genders.


Finding the True Number of Females with Autistic Spectrum Disorder by Estimating the Biases in Initial Recognition and Clinical Diagnosis. Children (Basel). 2022 Feb

What About the Girls? Sex-Based Differences in Autistic Traits and Adaptive Skills. 2018

How autistic adults’ priorities for autism research differ by gender identity: A mixed-methods study. Women’s Health. 2023;

Why Do So Many Autistic Girls Go Undiagnosed?

The Female Autism Phenotype and Camouflaging: a Narrative Review, 2020

Social Camouflaging in Autistic and Neurotypical Adolescents: A Pilot Study of Differences by Sex and Diagnosis, 2020

Parsons, M.A. Autism diagnosis in females by eating disorder professionals. J Eat Disord 11, 73 (2023).

‘I was exhausted trying to figure it out’: The experiences of females receiving an autism diagnosis in middle to late adulthood, 2020

The Experiences of Late-diagnosed Women with Autism Spectrum Conditions: An Investigation of the Female Autism Phenotype, 2016

Supporting Newly Identified or Diagnosed Autistic Adults: An Initial Evaluation of an Autistic-Led Programme, 2021

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