Supporting Girls on the Autism Spectrum

Supporting girls on the autism spectrum.

Barry Carpenter and Jo Egerton

Nasen, the UK’s leading organisation supporting those who work with or care for children and young people with special and additional educational needs and disabilities (SEND), has launched a free miniguide to supporting girls with autism spectrum conditions/disorder (ASC/ASD).

Girls and Autism: Flying under the radar, is a 20-page full-colour guide designed to alert busy teachers to the hidden struggles of girls with ASC/ASD. Misunderstanding of their support needs, it suggests, may lead to unnecessary school exclusion and mental health disorders.

Behaviours stereotypically associated with autism are now widely recognised by most teachers – the high-intensity interests (e.g. trains, mechanisms, dinosaurs) and the self-regulatory and anxiety-associated behaviours (e.g. flapping, jumping, resonating noises, meltdowns). However, now researchers are warning that these behaviours are not equally indicative of ASC/ASD in both boys and girls.

‘Ironically, it seems we, as professionals, have been over-focused on the detail and not seen the bigger picture,’ says co-author Jo Egerton. ‘It is not the object of interest that is key, but the extreme intensity and duration of interest that sets girls and boys with autism apart from their typically developing peers.’

A young girl with autism may, for example, collect hundreds of identical pictures of her favourite pop star or develop an unusually encyclopaedic knowledge of fashion, Egerton says.

‘Rather than externalising their ASC behaviours, it seems that girls are more likely than their male peers to suppress them, to assiduously study and copy peers’ socially acceptable behaviours, and to adopt more internalised and invisible relief from stress (e.g. self-harm, eating disorders).’

This means that their ASC/ASD is likely to go unnoticed, she adds, unless their school knows how girls with autism ‘fly under the radar’.

The Girls and Autism miniguide – which comes out of the UK’s National Association of Head Teachers’ Autism and Girls Forum chaired by Professor Barry Carpenter CBE – is a first step for teachers in becoming more informed. It introduces the debate around autism and gender; identifies key issues for girls with ASC/ASD; provides practical school-based support strategies; shares family, professional and academic perspectives; and signposts further reading.

‘Our challenge in schools is to evolve a curriculum and pedagogy that are responsive to our new understanding of girls with ASC/ASD and their specific needs,’ Professor Carpenter says. ‘This will involve a process of inquiry, to investigate and explore, for and with the girls, how best their needs can be met.’

You can download your free copy of Girls and Autism: Flying under the radar here.

For the National Conference on Girls on the Autism Spectrum ; The BIG Shout, to be held in London on 27th January 2017.please click here http://www.naht.org.uk/welcome/naht-events/conferences/girls-on-the-autism-spectrum-the-big-shout-conference/

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