History of Autism: Male vs. Female
Since Autism was first described by Leo Kanner in 1943, research has continued to further our understanding of this complex and varied condition. In the 1980’s, research began to focus on more mild forms of ASD, previously known as Asperger’s Syndrome. This raised queries about differences in the female presentation of ASD.
Modern research suggests a male-to-female gender ratio of 4:1 – meaning that for every four males that are diagnosed with ASD, one female is also given this diagnosis. However, as we are understanding more about how females with ASD may present, many expect this ratio to in-fact be closer to 1:1.
Common Descriptions of ASD in Females
Researchers and clinicians commonly cite the following characteristics in females with ASD, as often different to males with ASD:
Increased ability to copy social behaviours from others (‘social imitation’),
An interest in interacting with others,
A tendency to be shy or passive,
Better verbal abilities, and
Interests that focus on animals or people.
Other characteristics commonly seen in girls with ASD include:
Strong imagination, might escape into the worlds of nature, fiction, or fantasy
Play may appear imaginative and/creative. However, when watched closely it may involve replay of previous sequences or scenes from tv shows, or have specific rules about what must happen
An ability to hold in their emotions at school, but may then experience emotional overload and/or extreme behaviour at home
Strong sensory sensitivities, especially to things that they can hear (auditory) or feel (tactile)
Show less repetitive behaviours and interests
Intense interests may appear more ‘normal’
May appear good at conversing with others but her conversations lack social reciprocity (e.g. asking questions of the other, expressing interest in what the other is sharing, etc.)
Want to have friends, however making and keeping friends may be difficult
Misinterpreting interactions with peers. For example, not realizing that others are teasing her, or not understanding friendly jokes.
Obsessively and rigidly copying what her peers wear, have, say etc.
May use sayings often, or phrases which she has learned. This can be due to learned understandings which lack flexibility, and/or subtle difficulties in expressive language
Please note, these are in addition to many of the commonly described characteristics in ASD – as reported for both males and females.
Further Information and Resources
A book for young girls with autism spectrum conditions: “I am an Aspie Girl” Authored by Danuta Bulhak-Paterson https://suelarkey.com.au/product/i-am-an-aspie-girl/
A book for parents of girls with ASD: “Asperger's and Girls: World-Renowned Experts Join Those with Asperger's Syndrome to Resolve Issues That Girls and Women Face Every Day.” Authored by Tony Attwood, Temple Grandin, and others.
Information about adolescent and adult women with ASD: http://www.tonyattwood.com.au/about-aspergers/girls-and-women-who-have-aspergers
Book written by women with ASD, for parents wanting to understand their daughter’s experiences: “What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew” Authored by Inc. Autism Women’s Network
 Kanner, L. (1943). Autistic disturbances of affective contact. Nervous child, 2(3), 217-250.
 Halladay, A. (2014). Girls, Girls, Girls: A Recap of the Sex and Gender Differences in ASD Workshop.
 Dr Lori Ernsperger “Girls and women on the Autism Spectrum”