Many people are familiar with the symptoms of Asperger's syndrome (AS) in boys, but this disorder may be far more difficult to identify in girls. Unusual behaviors, intense interests, and sensory dysfunction may all be more subtle in girls, leading many parents and educators to overlook this syndrome as a possible diagnosis. However, there are thousands of girls diagnosed with Asperger's each year. With therapy and emotional support, many girls with Asperger's live happy and successful lives.
Symptoms of Asperger's in Girls
According to Your Little Professor, a site devoted to research and information on Asperger's syndrome, the symptoms of AS can be very different in girls than they are in boys. Understanding these symptoms may help you recognize a child who needs help.
A girl with Aspgerger's may exhibit the following social symptoms:
- Appears excessively shy or avoids interacting with others or making the first move socially
- Seems uncomfortable during conversation and may struggle with eye contact
- Usually has only one close friend at school
- May play appropriately with toys and engage in pretend play or may focus on organizing objects or toys
- Often shows empathy and compassion but may be confused by non-verbal social signals
- May have difficulty fitting in with peers due to clothing and hairstyle choices
The way an AS girl communicates may also be different from her peers:
- May have an exceptional vocabulary
- Tends to mimic rather than providing natural responses
- May converse in predictable, "scripted" ways
- Seems to struggle with non-verbal aspects of communication, such as body language and tone of voice
- May use odd inflection
- Appears to have difficulty dealing with unexpected verbal responses
The behavioral symptoms of Asperger's in girls may be very different from those in boys due to inherent differences in emotional processing:
- Less prone to act out physically or aggressively
- Intense focus on a particular subject, often involving animals or classic literature
- Appears anxious when there are changes in routine
- Practices rituals that appear to have no function
- May play with dolls or toys well beyond the typical age for these items
- Appears to have attractions or aversions to sensory stimuli, such as textures, foods, sounds, or visual patterns
- May engage in limited self-stimulating behavior, such as hand flapping, rocking, spinning, or shifting from foot to foot
AS also manifests itself in the way a girl carries herself:
- May have difficulty with fine or gross motor coordination
- May become easily lost, even in familiar surroundings
- Has an odd posture
- Resists physical games or sports
May Not Be Diagnosed
One of the most challenging aspects of being a girl with Asperger's, affectionately called an "Aspergirl," may be getting a diagnosis. Without the behaviors commonly associated with AS, the condition can go undiagnosed, but this does not mean that it is undetectable. Girls with Asperger's syndrome have the same difficulties with sensory processing and social navigation as boys. In addition, females have telltale intense focus on a particular subject of interest.
The difficulty getting proper diagnosis is that the symptoms of AS are internal, involving processing differences that manifest differently in girls. Emotional processing is inherently different in male and females. Boys with AS may tend to display aggression and frustration, bringing attention to a possible problem. Females, on the other hand, are less prone to act out. Neurotypical peers and adults often tend to treat females differently as well. Following a checklist for Asperger's may not always bring the condition to light because the female may not demonstrate the internal difference; she does not manifest behaviorally.
Getting More Information
Although there's a great deal of information on boys with AS, it can be more challenging to find resources that will help parents and teachers understand how the condition presents itself in girls. The following blogs, websites, and books can provide more information:
- Aspergirl: This blog, written by a woman with AS, offers an inside perspective.
- Aspersgirl.com: This website and blog by a girl with AS provides lots of helpful information.
- Asperger's and Girls by Tony Atwood, et. al. is a good resource for parents of girls with AS.
- Aspergirls: Empowering Females With Asperger Syndrome by Rudy Simone is written by a woman with AS and offers insight into the female side of this disorder.
Follow Your Parental Instincts
Ultimately, if you are a parent who is concerned about your child's development for any reason, it's important to follow your instincts. For girls, as for boys, early treatment and therapy for AS can dramatically improve social skills, behavior, and ultimately, future happiness.