Autistic Females and Friendship

By gilmae from Sydney, Australia (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Autism in girls is rare, but it does happen. These young girls are more socially motivated and have more close friendships than autistic boys. However, autistic girls are not as astute as recognizing conflict within those friends as non-autistic girls, according to new research.

Autism in Females

The findings of the new study were presented on January 6th, 2016, at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Educational and Child Psychology. Authors of the study included Felicity Sedgewick, Vivian Hill, and Professor Elizabeth Pellicano, from the Centre for Research in Autism and Education at the UCL Institute of Education at the University College London.

Dr. Sedgewick reviewed the responses of 46 youngsters between the ages of 12 and 16 years old, with similar intellectual capacities. The participants included 13 autistic girls, 13 non-autistic girls, 10 autistic boys and 10 non-autistic boys.

Results of the study showed that autistic and non-autistic females had similar scores for social motivation and friendship quality. Even though autistic girls reported less conflict in these friendships, the girls reported higher levels of relational aggression. Autistic males are less socially motivated, with qualitatively dissimilar friendships that were less stable, supportive or closer than autistic boys.

Sedgewick states, “Autism is seen as being much more common in boys because more boys than girls are diagnosed as being on the spectrum. This may be because diagnostic tools and criteria have been developed with boys and so are more biased towards identifying a ‘male presentation’ of autism.”

She further says, “So it is important to look at possible differences between autistic girls and boys to understand differences in the presentation of autistic features, which in the long run should help us better able to identify autism in girls. Social relationships are likely to be a key area where these gender differences occur, as we know that there are marked differences between typical boys and girls.”

“One of the most striking findings of the study was that the friendships of autistic girls were more like those of non-autistic girls, than they were like the friendships of autistic boys.”

“There was one point on which the two groups of girls differed, however, and that was with regards to their perception of conflict, with autistic girls often failing to recognize this conflict within their friendships.”

Conclusion to the Study:

In closing she said, “Our findings show that the problems dealing with social relationships are more subtle in autistic girls than they are in autistic boys, which might contribute to the difficulties detecting autism in girls. Dealing with conflict with friends and significant others could be an important area to target when supporting girls and young women on the spectrum.”

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