'Reading' autism symptom in girls as cases often go overlooked

a Teenage girl reading book on couch
Autism can often be overlooked in girls -Credit:Getty Images/F1online RF

Autism affects the way a person communicates and interacts.

It is a spectrum condition which means there are varying degrees to how it can affect someone's life. More than one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK, according to the most recent figures from the National Autistic Society (NAS).

People with autism can find a range of circumstances difficult, from social challenges to having an over (or under) sensitivity to light, sounds, taste or touch.

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The NAS said women and girls may receive a late diagnosis, or be misdiagnosed with a different condition altogether, due to stereotyped ideas about what autism "looks like". Guidance on the charity's website reads: "They might seem to have fewer social difficulties than autistic men and boys, but this could be because they are more likely to 'mask' their autistic traits.

"At school, autistic girls may be more likely to be part of a friendship group and this could be a reason that teachers don't notice their differences. They may also be missed if their academic achievement masks difficulties they are facing in other areas."

Some core characteristics, it adds, of autism include repetitive behaviours and hyper-focused interests. NAS continues that in autistic girls these behaviours and interests, for example reading books, are similar to those of non-autistic girls, and may therefore go unnoticed "despite the greater intensity or focus typical for autistic people."

The NHS lists the following autism symptoms for young children:

  • not responding to their name

  • avoiding eye contact

  • not smiling when you smile at them

  • getting very upset if they do not like a certain taste, smell or sound

  • repetitive movements, such as flapping their hands, flicking their fingers or rocking their body

  • not talking as much as other children

  • not doing as much pretend play

  • repeating the same phrases

It adds that autistic girls may:

  • hide some signs of autism by copying how other children behave and play

  • withdraw in situations they find difficult

  • appear to cope better with social situations

  • show fewer signs of repetitive behaviours

If you think your child may be autistic you should speak to your GP, your health visitor (if your child is under 5), any other health professional your child sees, or the special education needs (SENCO) staff at their school.

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