What Autism Looks Like In Girls

WHAT AUTISM LOOKS LIKE IN GIRLS

The term autism is derived from a Greek word that means “self”. A very apt definition as the chief signs of autism are social isolation, lack of eye contact, poor language skills, and reduced understanding of another person’s perspective. Children and adults on the autism spectrum frequently have difficulty relating to people and things.

In families where girl and boy children are socialized to have different roles the most obvious feature of autism, withdrawal from social interaction, may be more problematic. Gradually, we are releasing the hold that gender bias has played in our culture.  Never the less, this may be more difficult in some cultures than others when it comes to girls on the autism spectrum.

Parents and teachers are aware that the characteristic strong sense of self, can become harder to manage in teenage girls with autism as they mature. The potential for misunderstanding girls (and boys) with autism can also be coupled with a new sense of caregiver impatience.  Well-meaning caregivers don’t mean to, but can parent older children with strategies that no longer meet the needs of an older girl or boy. These inevitable responses from friends and family members cause many young adults with autism a great deal of stress. Often, in girls, this can play out as a form of social anxiety.

The need for low stress, calming strategies need to be in place.  Mostly, parenting girls with autism requires lots of patience and time. Always remember that when she is stressed, she may be slower to respond and to process what is going on around her. An individual with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is processing a lot all the time!

For individuals with ASD, their rate of development can be skewed, and their ability to process sensations and to perceive and understand events can be compromised as a result. They may have difficulty communicating while at the same time trying to move in a balanced, functional, and typical fashion. Often they will need to fully focus on one skill only. For these reasons an individual with ASD may seem slow to respond. It is important to keep in mind that they are processing a lot of information, information that their typical peers can perform automatically.

For symptoms of social anxiety, that can be quite exaggerated for girls with autism, stress management strategies can be helpful.  Appropriately identifying and reducing the feeling of a stressful encounter can calm the negative response.

Through either a breathing exercise, a form of calming palm acupressure or by making the muscles strongly contract through jumping in place, these can all impact the fight-or-flight stress response to calm down melt downs. Each of these anti-stress strategies have been scientifically demonstrated to lower the stress response. Lowering stress promotes more clear thinking and better opportunities for learning.

Each of these anti-stress actions can be designated for specific environments.

Deep breathing may be done when stress occurs in a quieter and personal environment (the library or while seated as a passenger in a car).

Hand acupressure can be done when around other people (in the classroom or in a crowd at a movie theater).

Jumping in place can be performed in a physically active environment such as during PE, recess or while watching a sibling’s fun sport or during a family leisure event.

Join in, you may find it lower your sense of stress, too!

HOW DO YOU TEACH AN AUTISTIC CHILD TO TALK AND RELATE TO FRIENDS?

Sooner or later, children will want to interact with their peers and they may feel a sense of frustration or hopelessness when they can’t get the hang of sharing. Reciprocal play and turn taking can be difficult and is often a skill developed later than their other typical friends whom have already established appropriate play skills. You can help your child with ASD in this area while in the emotional safety of your home.

To best teach a child with autism social skills, you need to describe the very specific type of communication expected of her in each specific social circumstance. It is very important to provide opportunities to practice in a low stress environment. Just as you provide opportunities to read, write, and do arithmetic, you should also provide opportunities to practice social conversations.

During those practice times, keep in mind at what point and how much help is needed so you can guide them with respect during more complex social events. Children with autism need to develop self-awareness regarding their action on others. Try to help your son or daughter in these common social skills while at home and in a low stress, compassionate environment. Identify mutually respectful language to provide subtle cues for success.

Just as you might teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, it becomes necessary to teach social behavior.  Help your child understand their friend and family member’s non-verbal body language and facial expressions. Additionally, help her understand the context of her own body language. Use of words and the non-verbal content of speaking are all important aspects of human interactions and are needing instruction, patience and practice with your child and you.

Your daughter or son on the autism spectrum will have a much less stressful time at school when they have been introduced to basic human interaction such as sequencing for turn-taking, comfortable eye-contact and the ability to minimize their need to instant gratification.

Children with autism need practice at home in order to be successful at navigating the complex social rules of school.

HOW DO YOU TEACH AN AUTISTIC CHILD TO TALK AND RELATE TO FRIENDS?

Sooner or later, children will want to interact with their peers and they may feel a sense of frustration or hopelessness when they can’t get the hang of sharing. Reciprocal play and turn taking can be difficult and is often a skill developed later than their other typical friends whom have already established appropriate play skills. You can help your child with ASD in this area while in the emotional safety of your home.

To best teach a child with autism social skills, you need to describe the very specific type of communication expected of her in each specific social circumstance. It is very important to provide opportunities to practice in a low stress environment. Just as you provide opportunities to read, write, and do arithmetic, you should also provide opportunities to practice social conversations.

During those practice times, keep in mind at what point and how much help is needed so you can guide them with respect during more complex social events. Children with autism need to develop self-awareness regarding their action on others. Try to help your son or daughter in these common social skills while at home and in a low stress, compassionate environment. Identify mutually respectful language to provide subtle cues for success.

Just as you might teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, it becomes necessary to teach social behavior.  Help your child understand their friend and family member’s non-verbal body language and facial expressions. Additionally, help her understand the context of her own body language. Use of words and the non-verbal content of speaking are all important aspects of human interactions and are needing instruction, patience and practice with your child and you.

Your daughter or son on the autism spectrum will have a much less stressful time at school when they have been introduced to basic human interaction such as sequencing for turn-taking, comfortable eye-contact and the ability to minimize their need to instant gratification.

Children with autism need practice at home in order to be successful at navigating the complex social rules of school.

CAN AUTISTIC CHILDREN GO TO “NORMAL” SCHOOL?

Many, many students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) benefit from schooling through the general education model. These students frequently solve problems from a different perspective when compared to their typical peers. Individuals with ASD often see the whole problem in one glance versus breaking ideas into smaller components. That can be a great way to learn!

Students with autism can make great contributions to their school and society through their unique way of looking at the world. They just know the right answer, but cannot chunk the concepts into steps in a manner required by most teachers. These students with autism frequently learn differently and can have difficulty demonstrating their sequential work steps when solving math problems.

Teachers tell me that when in a general education classroom, simple procedures can seem hard for both girls and boys on the autism spectrum. The sequenced step-by-step familiar classroom procedures that are easy for typical peers to follow, can be tremendously effortful for the student with autism.

Consider Arianna, a fifth grade student with ASD:

For Arianna, almost none of the classroom structured steps had been remembered by four months into the school year. Arianna didn’t experience her classroom routines as routines. Nothing seemed regular or to have a familiar pattern. During library time, Arianna was asked to asked to watch and l earn from her class mates regarding the correct method to select and sign out a book. Initially she felt encouraged by her teacher’s confident words and would begin searching the shelves for her book. Soon, however, she became overwhelmed by the rush of other students, the colors of their clothing, the varied sounds of their voices and even the texture of their clothing as they brushed past her in the line-up.  The compassionate librarian could see that Arianna was having difficulty remembering to choose her book amongst the distractions that other students managed without a concern. Arianna looked a little disoriented when she did not know the procedure that had easily been established in the rote memory of her classroom peers. When she finally had her book in hand, she had already expended considerable energy trying to comply with the library rules. At this stage, classmates that knew Arianna were not the least surprised to see her overwhelmed and distracted from the group reading activity that followed. Her peers recognized that Arianna had already “checked out”. Stretching her to participate beyond her endurance, resulted in further non-productive behavior on Arianna’s part.

In a group environment and over the course of the school year, typical students in the classroom will develop an understanding of their routines. They are independent in managing their materials and classroom responsibilities. Students much younger than Arianna, such as in first and second grade, have usually mastered the natural and familiar task of using a textbook, opening to the correct page, and visually attending to the details of the text in a quick and efficient manner. Certain textbooks may be located in specific cabinets in the classroom. Specific procedures are required in order to access these textbooks.

For a student with ASD however, Arianna shows us that each time she was required to get a book it was like a new experience every single time. Like a fish swimming in the opposite direction, students with ASD have a very different learning experience than others. Students move in one direction and Arianna would move in another.

At these times, tools and strategies can be helpful. Most teachers are taught multiple styles of helping students learn. Many have become expert in the education of children on the spectrum. Talk to your school. Hear what they have to say about the education of the unique learner.

HOW TO EXPLAIN AUTISM TO YOUR CHILD

Well done! You’ve taught yourself and your spouse all about autism spectrum disorder. You’ve carefully explained ASD to your friends and family. So now comes the question, how do you explain autism to your child with autism?

Children with autism spectrum disorder become self‑aware at a similar age as their neuro‑typical peers.  We usually expect that a two-year-old has an awareness of themselves and their surroundings. Self-awareness, in this context, means that your child has an understanding of people, places, and things.

Usually at two years of age a child can express their opinion.  Frequently the word, “No,” is heard.  To declare this expression, a memory of a previous and similar circumstances must be intact. The outcome of that previous circumstance must be remembered, too. Declaring, “No”  requires self-awareness and, when you think about it, this behavior is a sign of intelligence.

When this intelligence in self-awareness presents itself, the parent and other adults in the child’s world can help the child reflect on the consequence of their actions. When this self-awareness presents itself, your child can begin to reflect on how their actions affect others.

The evidence of self-awareness, thanks to the command, “No!” declared by your young child, is your clue to begin talking to your child about their behavior in relation to others. At this stage you can discuss what cousin Johnny’s brain and body needs versus your own child’s brain and body.

“I see that Johnny needs to tell his mom something very loudly.  My ears hear that you are using a quiet voice.  Loud voices and quiet voices are all wonderful voices. Thanks for using a quiet voice at the right place and right time”. In this way you are role modeling acknowledging the different use of voice and doing so in a nonjudgmental manner. Drawing the relationship between the two cousins, in this instance the distinction in volume of voice, is the aim. You can use this same non-judgmental conversation to discuss turn-taking, sharing and how close to sit beside friends.

As you gradually help your child process little bits of information about themselves and other people and things in the world, you can also provide them with some information on autism. Just like explaining a loose tooth, let them know about the medical condition called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Parents tell me that you must compliment the conversation with a sense of happiness. Seriousness tends to get misunderstood.

Your child with ASD is always learning and always picking up vital information about how to function in life. Try to use a nonjudgmental voice to discuss behaviors such as turn taking, sharing and how much space to give others when you play together.

As your child learns what ASD means to them, they must have an equal understanding of how they should treat others and how they should treat themselves. Interact with your child in a manner that you expect the world to treat your child: with dignity and respect and a bit of fun! Let your child experience those attributes in your home and they will work to create it as they mature in other social situations. Parenting is serious business.

HOW TO STOP YOUR CHILD’S REPETITIVE AUTISTIC BEHAVIOR

Your child will begin to pick-up on the appropriate distinctions between themselves and their friends at school. At a later time of your choosing, you can help find replacement behaviors for socially inappropriate actions. Consider this real life circumstance:

Sheena’s mother was pretty good at approaching the awkward conversations regarding her daughter’s inappropriate behaviors.

During the summer after 3rd grade, Sheena’s mom told Sheena that 4th grade girls don’t flap their hands.  The two of them found an alternative strategy involving fidgeting with a stretchy bracelet.

Gradually, Sheena was mature enough to understand the distinction between her behavior and others. She could better participate in problem‑solving a solution. Sheena learned to channel unusual mannerisms into something more socially acceptable and one that only she knew would be age appropriate.

It’s helpful that your daughter can see the distinction between their behaviors and the behaviors of others and to do so in a nonjudgmental manner. Both of your willingness to frankly discuss solutions will promote independence for her later in life.

Typical children learn by mimicking adults and those around them in order to understand social communication.  Children with autism tend to have difficulty mimicking the action and behaviors of others.  They also have difficulty placing themselves in the context of another person’s circumstance.  Without these inherent skills, learning by mimicking becomes difficult.  Many of our cultural customs are taught by role modeling and mimicking others. How did you learn to change a tire, fold a shirt or cast a fishing rod?

What it takes for your daughter to manage herself through a sudden and surprising new task at school or at home, is similar to you managing a flat tire. Remember your mental focus to overcome a flat tire problem all by yourself. It isn’t until after wards, you realize how much energy you expanded problem solving.  Your daughter may feel the same when she comes home from school but can’t express it.

Give her some space when she first gets home. Take Grandma’s advice, “There’s nothing that a quiet cup of tea can’t solve.”

For more helpful tips, my book, Unique Learner Solutions, is available to purchase by clicking HERE or Amazon.com!

 

 

 

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