“Autism and Girls: The Hidden Gender”

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The Lunch Date

“Catelyn, why don’t you sit up?” I queried to the head that was laying on my lap at the restaurant.

“I don’t want to,” a muffled voice replied.

“You could go sit with the rest of the kids?”


I moved my glass of water over and subtly began to bounce my leg, the one Cate’s head was resting on.

In retaliation, I felt a punch.

Slightly defeated I returned my attention to conversation of the group at the lunch table.  With our older son’s busy schedule, our family had decided to meet another family for lunch.

The kids were all seated at the other end of our table.  Talking, drawing, playing games together.  All, except for one, that is.  This one took one look at the kids at the other end and parked herself right next to me in between all the adults.

Thankfully when lunch arrived, Cate sat up to eat.

“Looks good!” the other dad commented as we all began to settle into our plates.  He turned his attention to Cate and added,

“Do you like the grilled cheese, Catelyn?”

Catelyn looked at the table separating her from the other dad and replied, “Yes.”

As soon as she had eaten, her head returned to my lap, only to pop up again as we said our goodbyes to leave the restaurant.

The Group of Girls

“My Jessica is so shy.”

“What’s that?” I asked, eyebrows up, leaning towards Jessica’s mom.

“I said my Jessica is so shy.”

“Oh!” I said, taken a bit by surprise.  I nodded and looked to the group of girls standing by the football field their older brothers were playing at, giggling, all talking on air phones to each other.

The girls seemed happy, enjoying each other’s company.

“Cate has her shy moments too,” I replied to Jessica’s mom and returned my look to the group of girls.  “Looks like the girls are having a good time now at least.” I offered with a smile.

“Yes, you’re right.” Jessica’s mom smiled and looked at the girls with me.

Truth be told I had to bribe Catelyn out of her room to go to the football game.  I told her I would buy her soda from the snack bar – a favorite.  Otherwise, she would have happily stayed at home, in her room either on her device, playing with her dolls, writing or drawing.  Her room is a place she enjoys plenty of alone time.

The Coat

“Cate – are you sure you want this coat?”

I picked the coat up and held it high.  It was perfect by mom standards.  Warm, furry hood, long – and it was the prettiest light blue – a color Catelyn has abhorred in the past.

The coat, in general was a shock.  Getting Cate to wear a coat that didn’t bother her sensory issues has always been a tremendous challenge.

“Yes,” Cate replied.  “That is the one I want.”

“Okay,” I said out loud.

‘YES, YES, YES!!!’ I screamed on the inside, stifling my urge to run top speed to the counter to pay for the coat.  Instead I walked as easily as possible.

A few weeks later a new friend of Catelyn’s came over.  A girl, whom I have seen grow up with Catelyn on the soccer fields, softball and running, had befriended Cate in class.

As she walked in I gasped in shock.

“Hi there, Kayla,” I said, “Want to make some cupcakes with Cate?”

“Sure,” Kayla said.  The she turned, took off the same exact warm, furry hood, long, beautifully colored light blue coat that I had just bought Catelyn, and put it on the chair.

Then I understood why Catelyn picked the coat, which I would have never imagined she would have worn happily in years past.



Earlier this week I ran across this informational piece.  And when I looked at it, these recent events popped into my mind.

Not only is Catelyn at a different point on the spectrum than Declan, she is a girl, and her autism will present itself differently.

Her challenges are so easy to overlook.  As her mom, these bits of information are always so helpful to me.  Where I might parent Bobby one way, I will parent her in a different way based on her different needs.

With Bobby, I encourage him to always look an adult in the eyes and show respect.  With Cate, I will support her if she tries.

I won’t make her sit at the kid table.  I won’t admonish her for buying the same clothes as her friends.  I get it – she is trying to figure (friends, clothes, behavior) it all out.

I will encourage her to come out of her room – sometimes connecting with others works out well.  And can be a lot of fun.

And I will continue to try to understand what she is experiencing and support her through her journey!


29 thoughts on ““Autism and Girls: The Hidden Gender”

    1. Socializing can be overwhelming – I can relate to that. I think Cate also has trouble transitioning out of her comfort zone activities. Tough!

  1. Oh lord this post is spot on. Like for me, I coped with undiagnosed autism by creating these fantasy worlds and characters I could relate to. The song Imaginary by Evanescence is pretty much talking about a day in the life of an autistic girl.

    1. I am glad you like the post! My daughter does something similar – she created two imaginary friends in the past year that she plays with often. On Friday’s she asks me to buy them candy because they have a Friday night sleep over party. And she will leave our TV time together early to go to her party. Her imaginary friends make her happy, so I say okay. I will have to listen to the song – thanks for letting me know about it!

  2. this is all new information for me. Very interesting that there would be such unique things in girls with autism as compared with boys. Thanks for educating me……again!

  3. Sometimes I think it’s harder on the girls because their autism gets overlooked more often and then they don’t get the support they need. In our society girls can “pass” easier than boys, especially on the emotional stuff, but that’s a huge disservice to the autistic girls. Your advocacy helps not only Cate but lots of other girls that may be slipping through the cracks!💌💌🙌

    1. I agree. When you read the statistic that boys are 5x’s more likely to have autism – then you learn that autism may present itself a little differently in girls – well, I am left to wonder if maybe there isn’t enough awareness of these differences on the diagnostic end. Then the girls do mask themselves – which sucks. Thank you! 🙂

      1. I am on the diagnostic end and I see 30-40 kids with autism per week.

        The meme almost simplifies facts so much that it is false. There are no encompassing statements that can be said about any autistic child because they are all so different. We are finding that autism is a collection of symptoms within a multitude of conditions.

        1. I agree with you that the meme is very generic – it uses the term “often” which is like saying girls “may” show these signs. I also agree that every child with autism is completely different. I found this meme interesting because it pointed out personality traits I had never associated with autism. By no means am I saying that this is what you use to diagnose autism in girls – I have done many posts though looking at gender differences in autism. I think that more awareness needs to be brought to the autism spectrum – I was trained on the DSM-IV. When I am with a professional (speech therapist, etc) and my children I can usually pick up on if the person is mentally using the DSM-IV Autistic Disorder or the DSM-V Autism Spectrum Disorder when talking about autism. An elderly pediatrician asked if my son was a savant like Rain Man when he met with him. So, when I see the statistic, and I think about everyone on the spectrum being different, gender differences, etc – I wonder if there is enough awareness of how varied the spectrum can be.

  4. Hello Robyn. This is a really interesting piece. Even though my younger son is very sporty and in no way effeminate, he does exhibit a lot of personality and behaviourial traits that you have described in Cate. He has never been diagnosed with any kind of autism but after having an epiliptic seizure when he was 11, an MRI scan picked up neurocytosis. A condition he was born with and definitey affects his attitude and behaviour. Kim

  5. My daughter is 3 and exhibits a lot of behaviors on the list. Having 2 boys on the spectrum I worry that I’m looking for it in her when it’s something she may grow out of. Basically I don’t know what to do.
    Very interesting reading though, thank you

    1. I would have missed all these signs in Cate if she hadn’t gotten depressed, which is why I originally took in her in to see a therapist. The therapist picked up on autism right away (thank goodness). When (or if) the time is ever right for you to get help your daughter, you will know (and you have the know-how). Thinking of you! Thank you!

    1. It’s a tough call, Jeff. Cate had a mountain of sensory issues, but I didn’t seek help until she was depressed. Her day to day was being affected by her mood. Learning that Cate was extremely emotional, argumentative and had a ton of social issues – the therapist picked up on autism. Thank goodness – it helps me understand and parent her and it helps her understand herself and work with me.
      My oldest, Bobby, also has sensory issues. Hates the feel of a toothbrush, won’t use a towel after the shower or at the pool, leaves the room when I vacuum still, hates coats, is never cold, food issues – but it doesn’t really seem to affect his day to day. If it ever did, then I would reach out for help.
      A friend of mine is going through this with her child now – the question of “is it really a “problem?”” She stil hasn’t called anyone. It’s tough!

  6. Thanks for writing this Robyn. I see so much of my own Katlyn is this. Although she has not received an official diagnosis yet (we are waiting on it to be sent), all the cues were missed when she was younger. (Tyson is her son) and in the graphic you shared, along with Cate’s behaviors, it’s like you are writing about my own daughter. Sensory issues are a big thing for her as well. And she has always wanted to fit in and have friends, but feels more comfortable alone in her room, than dealing with the social niceties it takes to fit in. At 23, she finally decided to be tested.

  7. I do have female clients who are physically aggressive and can do some damage. Some are more functional, very sensory, and very introverted. We can only report how they present and match to our current criteria for ASD. I hope your daughter has an easier time! You may check out social groups for kids with ASD

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