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Girl Behind a Sheet

What about Autistic girls?

Autism has been studied for 100 years. A German psychiatrist coined autism as a "symptom" of schizophrenia, a label he also invented (Evans, 2013). Research on autism has centered white, heterosexual cis-gender males, which explains why a lot of autistic representation and understanding is around stereotypical traits most commonly seen in this demographic (i.e., hand flapping, aggressive, or genius characters portrayed in movies like What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Rain Man)


In recent times, more and more cisgender females are being diagnosed with autism later in life. According to the CDC's 2020 report, the prevalence of autism diagnosis shows that 1 in 32 boys are diagnosed while only 1 in 144 girls receive the same diagnosis (Maenner et al., 2023). 


Late autism diagnosis for females is typically seen in early adulthood following mental health breakdowns due to decades of "masking" behaviors, disassociation patterns, and overwhelm by increased cognitive load due to adulthood responsibilities (i.e., working full time, motherhood, etc.). They are sometimes misdiagnosed with psychiatric labels such as "anxiety" or "depression."


New research indicates cis-gender females present with autistic traits that manifest differently than cis-gender males. According to research findings interpreted by Andi Putt, CCC-SLP, these may include but are not limited to:

  • anxiety (most prevalent)

  • being a "follower" or having a "mother hen,"

  • perfectionism

  • shy personality

  • avoidance of social initiation

  • high pitch voice or "sing-song" intonation

  • imitation of neurotypical peers and play activities

  • sensory differences

  • exaggerated or reserved facial expressions

  • "bossiness" 

A large study published by the NIH has indicated that mis- or undiagnosed autistic cisgender females are more likely to experience mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, sexual assault and abuse, substance abuse, engaging in self-harm, and eating disorders (Brown-Lavoie et al., 2014).


We must learn more about the diversity of autism and spread awareness to help decrease harm occurring disproportionally to marginalized communities (more about that in FAQs & resources).

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