11 Signs of Autism in Girls

Autism in Girls May Look Different from Autism in Boys

anxious girl

Could your daughter be autistic? The answer may not be as clear as it would be if you had a son. That's because signs of autism in girls and women are a little different -- and, it seems, they are easy to miss, particularly in cases of high-functioning autism.

Why Girls May Be Underdiagnosed

Girls who have overt symptoms-- such as obvious self-stimulating behaviors (stims), extreme difficulties with speech and language, severe difficulties with social communication, or significant cognitive challenges -- are usually diagnosed fairly quickly.

But girls whose symptoms are subtle, or whose intelligence level allows them to mask symptoms, may only be diagnosed as pre-teens or teens.

Our culture may be to blame for some missed diagnoses in girls. In general, girls are expected to be quieter and less assertive than boys. A girl who appears shy and withdrawn may be seen as acceptably "feminine," while a boy with the same behaviors is considered to be atypical. Similarly, a girl who seems "spacey" and unengaged is often described as "dreamy," while a boy with similar behaviors may attract negative attention.

Signs That May Suggest Autism in Girls

Does your daughter exhibit any of these signs or symptoms that suggest challenges in social communication or differences in thought patterns?  Bear in mind that no single symptom is enough to suggest autism. In addition, while some of these symptoms may become increasingly obvious to you as your daughter gets older, you should be able to look back and realize that they have been present since her toddler years.

If you see several of these issues, however, and they seem to be prevalent over time, you might wish to consider having your daughter screened or evaluated by a professional team of autism experts.

  1. Your daughter relies on other children (usually girls) to guide and speak for them throughout the school day.
  1. Your daughter has "passionate" and limited interests that are very specific and and restricted -- even if they are age appropriate. For example, she may be fascinated by a TV show and collect facts about the characters or actors, but know little or nothing about the plot or genre of the show.
  2. Your daughter is unusually sensitive to sensory challenges such as loud noise, bright lights, or strong smells. (This symptom is as common among boys as among girls.)
  3. Your daughter's conversation is restricted to her topics of interest. She may share her areas of specific and restricted fascination, but have no interest in hearing another person's response.
  4. Your daughter has a low frustration level, and finds it difficult to moderate her feelings when she is frustrated. She may have age-inappropriate "meltdowns."
  5. Your daughter experiences an unusual degree of depression, anxiety, or moodiness.
  6. Your daughter has a difficult time making or keeping friends; she may seem "clueless" when it comes to non-verbal social cues (other people turning away, facial expressions, etc.).
  7. Your daughter is usually described as "quiet" or "shy" in school and other challenging social situations.
  8. Your daughter is unusually passive.
  1. Your daughter appeared to be developing fairly typically as a young girl, but finds social communication to be increasingly difficult as she enters her teen years. (Studies suggest that girls with high functioning autism may find ways to cope with and mask difficulties with social interaction, often by allowing others to speak for them. This strategy works well until social expectations become more complex and demanding in the early teenaged years.)
  2. Your daughter has epileptic seizures (this has been found, in one study, to be more common among girls with autism than among boys).

If you do feel that these criteria describe your daughter, and you decide to seek an evaluation, be sure to find an evaluator or team that has specific experience working with girls on the spectrum.

As mentioned, it can be tough to diagnose high functioning autism in a girl who has learned how to work around her challenges.


DeWeerdt, S. Autism characteristics differ by gender, studies find. Simons Foundation, 27 March 2014.

Dworzynski K. et al. J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry 51, 788-797 (2012)

Nichols, Shana. A Girl's-Eye View: Detecting and Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorders in Females. Interactive Autism Network at Kennedy Krieger Institute, December 2009.

Sarris, M. Not Just for Boys: When Autism Spectrum Disorders Affect Girls. Interactive Autism Network at Kennedy Krieger Institute, February 19, 2013.

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