Early signs of Autism in girls

Team kindship
March 23, 2022
3 minutes

Autism symptoms vary with everyone and characteristics are unique to each individual, while one person may possess all of the ‘typical’ autistic traits another may be milder or less noticeable to the everyday eye.  While ASD signs can differ between individuals there is a noticeable difference between the genders.

Autism seems to be more common in boys, right? I know throughout my early childhood teaching days I only ever encountered boys with autism and up until this day the only girl with autism I know in fact happens to be my own daughter.

It is thought that ASD is four times more likely in boys. But is this in fact the case or is it more that girls are being miss-diagnosed or overlooked. Girls typically don’t fit the more ‘traditional’ signs of autism and there seems to be a bias towards the male diagnosis process.

ASD symptoms and characteristics in boys are different and there can be many reasons for this.

  • Girls tend to be good at masking behaviours in public
  • Girls have a strong ability to be able to mimic what is considered to be more ‘socially appropriate’ behaviours
  • -Girls tend to draw less attention to themselves 
  • Alot of the time girls are diagnosed later in life. (I am noticing that my daughter's autism is presenting so much more the older she gets)

It was my husband that first suggested that our daughter had autism. I dismissed the idea completely, because I knew all of the typical symptoms and she just did not fit the criteria. Time went on and we ended up going to a behaviour psychologist simply to seek a bit of guidance.

  • Why was she always crying?
  • Why were meltdowns so extreme?
  • Why were her meltdowns over ‘nothing’?
  • Why would she scream when we were leaving places? Even when she wanted to go?
  • Why did she not enjoy going places?
  • Why was she so attached to me?
  • Why didn’t she like toys?

But just because I had questions and concerns about the above didn’t mean she had autism, as these weren’t symptoms of early signs of autism they were just a collection of behaviours that were repetitive and constant each day; clearly just some sort of phase we needed some guidance with, right?

That first initial meeting ended with… I am 99% sure your daughter has autism. This was without even meeting her and was purely going off a long checklist of autistic behaviours and symptoms.

Our daughter was 3 at the time, today she is 7 and autism characteristics are now much more prevalent and noticeable.

Signs of autism in babies

It is quite tricky to see autism signs in babies, especially in those first 12months because a lot of behaviours can be age appropriate and the signs can be missed.

Perhaps you are reading this because in fact you have also asked the question ‘Does my child have autism’? There are signs of autism in babies that I was unaware of but looking back now it was so evident they were there. Signs of autism in babies can look like;

  • Feeding issues; fussy eating, trouble swallowing and sensory aversions to food.
  • Not affectionate or being overly attached to one person (on my case it was me)
  • Crying when people leave the room
  • Sensory distress; not liking textures of things for example touching sand, crawling on grass
  • Not responding to name or limited response
  • Not looking at things when pointed at
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Attached to specific toys or objects or in contrast not having any interest in toys
  • Movement delays
  • Little pointing or gesturing
  • Delayed language or speech
  • Regression in skills
  • Rocking from side to side or unusual movements
  • Repeating words, phrases or sounds
  • Distress going places or being around people
  • Seeking visual stimulation; phone screens, fans, lights
  • Mouthing objects

While it is evident that autism presents differently in girls and boys I believe it is difficult to distinguish in the early days and the uniqueness between the two becomes more evident after that first year of life.

I think the main signs of autism in our daughter in the first few years was

  • Her attachment to me (separation anxiety)
  • Not wanting to go to anyone else or enjoying other people's company
  • Speech delay that in fact then turned into her speech well exceeding that of children her age (a common autistic trait I’m told)
  • Not wanting to play with toys
  • Sensory aversions
  • Easily distressed throughout the day
  • Behind in motor skills (although this was due to her cerebral palsy, I thought it was worth mentioning as it can be a symptom of autism in the early years)

Signs of autism behaviours for toddler/preschooler girls

After she was diagnosed at 3.5years the signs became more evident. They began to become exposed to those closest around her. Still not significant to others; as like many girls with autism she was great at masking those ‘non socially appropriate’ behaviours.

ASD behaviour characteristics in girls typically begin to present more visibly as they grow up and begin school life.

  • Struggle with transitions; Going places, leaving places, changing between activities, entering different stages between day-to-day activities
  • Constant need for routine
  • Difficulty to cope with change or unpredictability
  • Repetitive stimming behaviours
  • Avoidance or non-seeking social interaction
  • Masking behaviours, keeping emotions in check at social situations but releasing emotions at home.
  • Can be seen as quirky
  • Intense interests
  • Copying or mimicking in social situations
  • Perfectionism
  • Sensory seeking
  • Intense/possessive friendships
  • Advanced language skills
  • Play is one sided and overly controlled
  • Anxiety
  • Special interests; intense and obsessive, more then just a hobby
  • Ritualistic behaviours
  • Repetitive play and behaviours

It can be quite difficult to determine early signs of autism in babies or in those early years but with some understanding of signs and symptoms early diagnosis is possible and achievable. Girls do present differently to boys however so it may be more challenging to determine ASD in the early years.  I strongly advise taking steps to early diagnosis to assist not only in attaining therapy but to gain an insight into your child’s unique mind to be able to better support, guidance and understanding.