My beautiful daughter is 21 years old. She is autistic and wasn’t diagnosed until she was almost 17 years old. I have a degree in Psychology and have been a journalist for 19 years and frankly, should have known she was autistic. I should have spotted all those signs.
In my defence, I did spot them. Oh yes, I was always at the school, I was probably there more than some of the kids. I shared my concerns at the Infant School, the Junior School and the Senior School, all in Hampshire. I shared my concerns for years with teachers, who always, always allayed my concerns and told me she was clever and everything would be okay. Not once was autism mentioned.
“My only friend is the Dinner Lady” my then six year old would say. I would hotfoot it to the school, hiding behind the hedge at lunch break to watch my lonely little girl, who would be sitting next to the Dinner Lady, sharing facts about birds, with not a friend in sight. When she did make the one friend she kept for three years, she would stay quiet, hanging on her friend’s every word and she would always play dog in their make-believe games. Her heart broke for 14 months when her friend chose another best friend.
She was never invited to parties, to friend’s houses. She wore the same Batman outfit every day for two years, she complained of “melting” every night. I felt like a Sergeant Major forcing her to go to school every day. I would wake every day at 5.30am every morning, needing three and a half hours to get her there. She meltdown every morning, she meltdown every afternoon. She loves animals, so prompted by her lack of interest in everything - apart from birds, horses and dogs, she spent every Saturday at Warren Farm. She learnt to ride and look after horses. She loved it. She spent 14 years at Warren Farm. She still meltdown every Saturday morning before we left to go.
I told my GP about my concerns for my anxious-riddled little girl. I was told she was a “normal” little girl. I didn't argue. I only have one child. I didn’t know what was wrong with my daughter. I thought it was me. When I look back with the knowledge I now have, I would have done so many things so very differently. Oh hindsight is a wonderful thing, except it isn’t. It’s painful.
As no doubt you have guessed, I knew nothing about autism, always believing it was a condition which mostly affected boys. Adding to this not once did a single teacher ever mention my daughter’s difficulties were in fact autistic traits. They did go one step further, asking me how, why, when did I break up with her father. So of course, I blamed myself for leaving her father when she was four (even though ten years on teachers would ask me the same questions). Blamed myself for not setting stronger boundaries. Blamed myself for everything. I was a failure and failing my daughter, who was low and anxious and I didn’t know why or how I could help.
I could go on and on.
Here are some of the signs of autism in females, but the most notable point to make is girls are more likely to MASK their differences, particularly in public. Boys are more likely to DISPLAY them.
Girls will rely on other children to guide them and speak for them throughout the school day.limited interests that are very specific and restricted. For example, while many girls may be fans of a particular TV show a girl with autism may know detail but the plot will escape herUnusual sensitivity to sensory challenges such as loud noise, bright lights, or strong smells, touch of things, liking soft thingsConversation may be restricted. Dislike of chit chat or small talk. Takes words literally, struggles with conversations, may be selectively mute. This may interfere with her ability to join groups or make friends.finds it difficult to moderate her feelings when she is frustrated. She may have age-inappropriate "meltdowns." This may interfere with her relationships with teachers, or lead to behavioural interventions such as detentions or even suspension from schoolsGirls may experience a degree of depression, anxiety, or moodiness. Autism particularly high functioning is associated with both mood disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder.Problems planning, organising, time keepingUnable to recognise or process non-verbal social cuesWants to imitate other girls' behaviours, fashion choices, or hairstyles to fit in but strugglesYour daughter is usually described as "quiet" or "shy" in schoolYour daughter is unusually passive. While some people with autism are quite assertive, passive behaviours (while socially acceptable in school) can be a sign that your daughter isn't quite sure what to do or say, and has chosen the safe route of doing or saying as little as possible.
There are so so, so many more signs and I will talk more at length next week
Take care and lots of love