Girls with Asperger's syndrome often have an "invisible" social disability. Recent research shows that girls with a condition within the autism spectrum appear behaviorally less "autistic" than boys, according to researcher Nils Kaland. Here you can read about Asperger's in girls.

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This article is, among other sources, based on an article by Nils Kaland in the Norwegian Speech Therapy Association's journal.

 

Asperger's diagnosis is more common in boys than in girls

The girls with Asperger's syndrome often struggle to establish friendships with others of the same age, says Nils Kaland. Many feel that they have been excluded from the group of friends - and far too many become victims of bullying at school. Growing up, they have often felt like "outsiders", who have desperately tried to perceive what is going on in the interaction between people. Questions that often recur in some are how other people think and feel, and what social codes apply.

Despite the fact that the difficulties are extensive in girls who have Asperger's syndrome, it is far more common for boys to be diagnosed than girls. The ratio between boys and girls who are diagnosed within the autism spectrum varies greatly in different studies, from 2: 1 to 10: 1, according to Kaland.

 

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The girls with Asperger's syndrome suffer in silence

Part of the reason for the large gender difference in how many people are diagnosed may be that it is more difficult to diagnose Asperger's syndrome in girls than in boys.

Cognitive impairment, including the inability to interpret the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of others, can be just as severe in girls as in boys.

Some girls or adult women with Asperger's syndrome, especially those with significant intellectual capacity, can be difficult to diagnose because they often manage to camouflage their difficulties. In addition, within mental health care for adults, there is relatively little knowledge about adults with autism spectrum disorders.

The girls may appear to be seemingly "normal", at the same time as they often suffer in silence. Cognitive impairment, including the inability to interpret the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of others, can be just as severe in girls as in boys.

 

The girls with Asperger's are overlooked

Relatively well-functioning girls with Asperger syndrome often hide weak social skills by appearing cheerful and active - or as quiet and obedient. The basic cognitive problems often appear in the form of mental problems such as attention deficit, eating disorders, depression, compulsive behavior, phobias and social anxiety.

The basic cognitive problems often appear in the form of mental problems such as attention deficit, eating disorders, depression, compulsive behavior, phobias and social anxiety.

In a Swedish study in which 100 girls with symptoms of a neuropsychiatric condition participated, it was found that almost all the girls with autism and Asperger's syndrome had been hyperactive when they were younger. After the age of ten, they showed restlessness and / or attention problems. 

The youngest girls with severe hyperactivity and normal language development were difficult to diagnose, and their ADHD symptoms overshadowed the failure of communication and social interaction. 

Where a girl has developed strategies to hide her symptoms of AS in different settings, parents, teachers and clinicians can easily overlook the symptoms. 

 

  1. Anxiety in girls with Asperger's

    A Swedish study of, among others, a number of girls with autism and Asperger's syndrome found that anxiety was common among those examined. The most common were separation anxiety, specific phobias, panic anxiety and social phobias.

  2. Eating Disorders In Girls With Asperger's

    In addition, it has been found that eating problems such as anorexia may be associated with Asperger's syndrome. Swedish researchers have found that 18 to 23 percent of teenage girls with anorexia also have signs of Asperger's syndrome.

  3. Depression in girls with Asperger's 

    However, it is depression that seems to be most common in people with Asperger's syndrome. Studies suggest that 30-50 percent of people with autism or Asperger's syndrome develop depression. Unfortunately, it is common for mental health professionals to overlook depression in adults with autism or Asperger's - or to view it as part of autism. According to Nils Kaland, a researcher states:

    - There is an increasing amount of research that suggests depression is the most common mental illness in people with autism.

 

Girls with Asperger's Syndrome use "social recipes" and mechanical "social roles"

Some girls learn strategies for how to act in social settings. Some people smile, because the smile can hide that they are struggling, and they have to fight hard to function socially. On the surface, some can communicate in a mutual way, and they can to some extent use an emotional register and use gestures in conversation with others.

On the surface, some can communicate in a mutual way ... However, a closer observation will reveal that the girl often plays a social role and uses a "recipe" for appropriate behavior - by using her intellectual skills. 

A more thorough observation, however, will reveal that the girl often plays a social role and uses a "recipe" for appropriate behavior - by using her intellectual skills. An example of a camouflage strategy is when girls with AS play with peers.

The strategy they use is to try to hide their confusion by refraining from participating in the game with the other students, at least until they know what to do. That way, they can avoid making embarrassing mistakes. The strategy is to wait and carefully observe what the other students are doing - and then imitate them. This can go relatively well as long as the rules for the game do not change.

 

Girls with Asperger's are not caught at school

In a Swedish study in which 100 girls with neuropsychiatric symptoms were examined, it was found that almost all the girls with autism had been hyperactive when they were younger. After the age of ten, they showed restlessness and / or attention problems. The youngest girls with severe hyperactivity and normal language development were difficult to diagnose, and their symptoms of ADHD often overshadowed their failure in communication and social interaction.

The teachers wondered if they should be examined at all for autism or Asperger's syndrome; they had not discovered that they could have major problems.

It generally turns out that girls with Asperger's syndrome can go undiagnosed for years, and often that they are bullied for a long time without the school noticing. Among a number of girls who had been diagnosed within the autism spectrum, it turned out that the teachers were surprised that they should be examined at all for autism or Asperger's syndrome; they had not discovered that they could have major problems. 

It can be difficult for teachers to believe the parents who tell of great emotional reactions at home, of exhaustion, school refusal and crying - especially if the student is kind and good at school. Some children with autism and Asperger's syndrome may seem social with friends around them, and they may to some extent feel for a social community. But they often get very tired of it, because they spend an incredible amount of energy on social interaction.

 

Girls with Asperger's syndrome disappear in the crowd

Another strategy that girls with Asperger's syndrome like to use is to "disappear in the crowd", so that they become more peripheral socially. Girls with Asperger's can avoid active participation in what is going on in the classroom. They do not interfere with teaching, and some are considered the class's model student, especially because they do the tasks they are given and require little from the teacher. In some cases, they seem to go undetected through school, and one of the reasons for this may also be that many are quiet, polite, obedient and good at school.  

Some are considered the class's model student, especially because they do the tasks they are given and require little from the teacher

Compared to some non-autistic girls, they are rarely rude and rude to other people. This way they also get less attention than the boys, and they get to be at peace from the teachers. They are virtually lost in the crowd. The same problem is known also in girls with ADHD problems, who also "disappear in the crowd" and therefore do not get the difficulties detected.

 

Girls with Asperger's feel from another planet

Although girls with Asperger's syndrome may have less extensive social problems than many boys with Asperger's syndrome, many of the characteristic, autistic characteristics are also found in girls.

According to Nils Kaland, 28-year-old Pernille describes:

- I'm good at hiding it. Tasting the normal world daily without belonging evokes in me the feeling of a thin, impenetrable glass wall between me and the others.

Hollyday Willey described, also according to Nils Kaland:

- I preferred to be with my fantasy friends. Penny and her brother Johanna were my best friends, but no one else saw them but me.

Nils Kaland also cites a quote from a 17-year-old girl with Asperger's syndrome:  

- I went through life ridiculed and branded as "weird", but no one diagnosed me until I was 17 years old. I was so lonely and banned. I had no idea what was wrong. I felt that my father was like me and I was waiting for him to pull me aside and tell me the secret. I loved watching Superman and decided I must be from another planet.

- Through trial and error, I learned to "play" a social role ... I now have a master's degree in social work. It was the hardest thing I've ever done.

 

Girls with Asperger's often have other types of special interests than boys

Both boys and girls with Asperger's Syndrome can learn vast amounts of facts about one - and sometimes several - areas that interest them. Nevertheless, the girls differ from the boys in their special interests. These interests are usually not as special as may be the case in boys with the syndrome. The special interests are self-chosen, not because the child wants something like an "in" in time, but because it interests; motivation is the driving force.

 

  1. Special interest in animals

    Special interests in animals, among others, can be very intense in girls with Asperger's syndrome. Animals are more predictable than humans, and for some, animals can be a substitute for humans. Animals do not behave in rude ways, and they neither tease nor deceive anyone. Being with the animals can be stressful, and for some girls with Asperger's syndrome can take on the character of becoming an all - consuming interest.

  2. Special interest in dolls

    If the girl's interest is Barbie dolls, she may have collected countless of them, and she may have placed them in a certain order. She rarely involves others in her play. Some girls use dolls as figures to represent real people they know.

  3. Special interest in poetry and fiction

    Some girls with AS may develop special interests in poetry and fiction (Willey, 1999). It may be about interest in reading novels. Some may also be fascinated by classical literature such as Shakespeare and Dickens. Girls with Asperger's syndrome may have a desire to write fiction themselves. For some, it may mean the start of a career as a writer. In addition, reading and writing fiction can be a positive activity that can provide better insight into the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of others.

  4. Special interest in philosophical questions

    While a conversation with a boy with AS may leave an impression of talking to a 'little professor', who with an advanced vocabulary can provide many interesting, albeit lengthy factual information - some girls with Asperger's syndrome may be more reminiscent of a philosophically minded person , with a penchant for thinking deep thoughts, analyzing social relationships and reflecting on social events and conventions.

 

Many people with Asperger's syndrome are bullied at school

Children with autism and Asperger's syndrome often have a different way of being in the world, and they have different interests than most students. Although their way of thinking, feeling and acting is equivalent to the behavior of others, it makes them vulnerable to bullying and harassment; they become "perfect victims."

Between 60 and 90 percent of children within the autism spectrum are bullied at school

According to Nils Kaland, surveys show that between 60 and 90 per cent of children within the autism spectrum are bullied at school, and that girls are more vulnerable than boys. The most common form of bullying is verbal, while some are also physically harassed. Children with autism spectrum disorders have a significantly higher risk than regular students of dropping out of school.

For many, free time is worse than school hours, for some the pure nightmare. In the free minutes, little is organized, and there are many social activities that these students do not manage or do not want to take part in.  

For many with autism and Asperger's syndrome, social experiences are not very rewarding, and it is therefore not surprising that many withdraw from social situations. Over time, this can lead to them developing negative attitudes and thought patterns that nothing works in social settings. This will naturally reduce the chances of them trying to interact with others.

 

More research is needed on girls with Asperger's syndrome

There are relatively few studies that have looked at differences between the sexes with regard to how autism and Asperger's syndrome manifest themselves. Consequently, there is little research-based knowledge about girls with Asperger's and similar conditions, including how the clinical picture is in them.

When a girl is examined, for example due to lack of concentration, restlessness, eating disorders, anxiety and depression, one should keep in mind that the underlying problem may be a condition within the autism spectrum

Nils Kaland points out, however, that research has been done which shows that a higher proportion of girls than expected meet the criteria for a condition within the autism spectrum. When a girl is examined, for example due to lack of concentration, restlessness, eating disorders, anxiety and depression, one should keep in mind that the underlying problem may be a condition within the autism spectrum. If the basic problems are identified at the earliest possible time, it can make it easier to facilitate a customized training offer. 

Ability level, language, communicative and social skills should be mapped, also because these variables will be important for future prospects, for both sexes (Howlin, 2003). The goal must be to help ensure that the conditions are created in the best possible way for the individual in school and community life, and also that parents and guardians receive the help, support and relief they often need.

 

Girls with Asperger's need to be helped to accept themselves as they are

For girls with autism or AS, it is important that they can feel safe at school. Arrangements should be made for them to have good experiences, for example through well-organized schooling, with opportunities to develop friendships, although friendships with ordinary children and young people can be difficult to establish.

Girls with Asperger's Syndrome are in dire need of help to accept themselves as the valuable person they are.

Good relationships can help girls gain more self-confidence and a better self-image. At the same time, there can be a constant pain in this to be included and at the same time "different", as many such girls, despite being socially included, feel inadequate. Girls with Asperger's Syndrome have a dire need for help in accepting themselves as the valuable person they are.

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Written by

ove heradstveit

Ove Heradstveit

Psychologist, specialist in clinical community psychology. PhD.
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