Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Autistic Girls

“Females are biologically and socially expected to be nurturing, intuitive and empathetic, and yet autism is primarily a social-emotional disorder that profoundly affects relationships and social behaviour. For girls, the collision between autistic characteristics and social expectations can be especially difficult -- and almost unsurmountable during the teen years.” (Autism in Girls Poses Unique Education, Social Challenges)

The issues facing a teenage girl diagnosed with autism are very unique and need to be addressed and dealt with quite differently to teenage boys facing the same diagnosis.

Social Interaction
The friendships and networks of teenage girls are very complex and demanding, especially with the rise in popularity of social networking sites, email and text messaging. Autistic girls find it difficult to have empathy and connection and be involved in fast paced communication with a lot of unspoken or hidden messages.

Anxiety and Depression
There has been a lot of research into the links between autism and depression. Although the ratio for autism affecting boys vs. girls is 1:4, over half of autistic patients with mood disorders were female.

Sensory and awareness issues mean that for some girls they are unaware of the need to bathe, shave or wax, wear deodorant or generally look after themselves.

Eating Disorders
Recent research suggests a link between anorexia and autism. Around one fifth of girls diagnosed with anorexia have autism spectrum features. To confound this, being undernourished and underweight only exaggerates autism traits.

In addition to problems interacting socially, keeping up with fashion and teenage girl communication, more than half of girls with autism spectrum disorders have been bullied, frequently truant and avoid participating in sports.

There really needs to be an investment in programs aimed at teenage girls affected by autism that will help raise awareness and build social skills, aim to correctly diagnose and treat depression and eating disorders. However, developing real friendships is one thing that could make all the difference.

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