Friday, 10 August 2012

Boisterous Boys vs Gorgeous Girls?

One of my favourite other blogs to read is written by B's Dad over at Life with an Autistic son. Partly because he goes through a lot of the same sort of experiences as us, but mainly because he manages to find the humourous side in all of it and he never fails to make me laugh.

When I read his latest post 'It's a Boy Thing', I just had to respond. Autism is not just a 'boy thing', although it has been diagnosed more widely in boys so far. There is some evidence to suggest that girls are simply better at hiding the autism, or at least dealing with it to some extent. Does this mean the female species is just 'brighter' all round?!

From my experience, girls on the spectrum that I've met have fallen more in the 'high-functioning' or Aspergers group. There are fewer cases of violent behaviour and more cases of 'mind matters' - controlling behaviour and extreme worries. That is of course, a huge generalisation, just as it is saying boys are more boisterous than girls. Somewhere along the way though, our gender does react with our genetic make-up to produce stereotypes. I'm sure I never told my eldest daughter that girls should like pink, but from a very early age she did.

Having two girls, I've often wondered what it would be like to be bringing up a boy instead....  I'll have to admit though, that it's not something I feel I'm missing out on.

Not wanting to upset anyone, but I like having girls. Before childbirth, I was probably like lots of other mums-to-be, thinking one of each would be nice. After... well, I'm definitely NOT saying that my friends' boys were naughty, or that all boys are the same, it was just that 'they' were louder and had more energy than Tamsin, and a need to climb and explore and run away and and and.... Tamsin sat by my side always, and needed lots of attention, but I wasn't run physically ragged like some of the other mums I saw.

Then of course, I had Sasha. Another gorgeous girl. Only this one had a very different personality. She created havoc wherever she went, was extremely vocal, would run away from me, and was 'into' everything. I felt like we had a little tomboy on our hands.

Her diagnosis of autism at the age of 2 and a half came almost out of the blue for us; we had referred her for speech therapy because her words were not as clear as Tamsin's had been at that age. We knew she was wilful, but hadn't really seen her behaviour as 'challenging'.

I still wouldn't call her 'challenging', and I no longer constantly walk on egg-shells like I did when she was younger, but it still does take more effort to run about both after and before her. I'm sure that is in some part down to the autism, but maybe a lot of it can be attributed to her actual character. She likes mud and playing outdoors, and is in some ways a complete opposite to Tamsin. Yet she can still be girly when she wants to be.

B's Dad wonders if all men are on the autistic spectrum somewhere. I'd argue that all men AND women are on it somewhere; maybe it's just that more men show extremes.

So what do you think? Girls vs boys?!


  1. When my son was younger, for some time after he was diagnosed, I wondered what parts of his behavior were due to his autism, what was influenced by his gender and age, and what was the result of his unique personality. I don't know if I ever quite figured it out. These days, I don't think about that so much anymore, nor about what it would have been like to have a girl, or a child not on the spectrum. It is what it is, and I'm very content with that.

  2. Hi Steph,
    I had to respond to this, having opened the can of worms in the first place!
    Firstly, thanks for the kind words about (and links to) my blog. Your continued support is much appreciated.
    I smiled in recognition when you said 'one of each' would have been nice, but like you, the moment they come along you know that actually it is perfect and just the way it should be. I can't imagine not having two boys, it just seems so right. And so it is with your girls.
    The thing you said about girls hiding their autism is interesting. I think society's expectations of how boys and girls behave has some influence on this. When I think about the teenage boys and girls I teach, the girls are mature, hardworking and calm. The boys, on the other hand, are boisterous, immature slackers! The bad news for girls is that we don't really outgrow this stage! The boys who don't conform to this stereotype are labelled 'wuss' unfortunately. So, perhaps the boy/ girl autism difference is influenced by this expectation of behaviour. That old devil, peer pressure.
    I'm not sure where this leaves my four year old boy, whose awareness of gender difference is below what you'd expect at his age (he gets he/she mixed almost 100% of the time). He has no problem playing with girls toys or the colour pink really, despite having spent a year at school, where these preferences normally develop. He's not trying to conform to boyish behaviour, yet he very much does.
    I like the idea of all of us being on the spectrum. Perhaps one day autism will not be regarded as such a 'difference', but actually part of an extended acceptance of the 'norm'.
    Ultimately, what I think is important is that we are talking about all this, raising awareness and supporting and building understanding. Thanks for writing this post, keep up the good work.
    B's Dad

  3. Interesting thoughts! I also think that the gender of child we receive is perfect for each of us... I could not imagine having a girl (not to say I wouldn't have liked one)instead of my gorgeous boy. As regards the boys vs the girls in the Autism stakes? Hmmm.... I love your idea that perhaps the girls are just brighter!! When I thought about this issue a few years back I wondered if, as has been said, the girls ARE just better at hiding it or that their Autism presents in a way that doesn't draw attention to them and that they're more capable of integrating? Gender type affects presentation of Autism? There definitely are elements of 'normal' 'boys will be boys' in my boys behaviour so which is down to ASD diagnosis and which is him being a boy? Same applying to girls and how they relate to each other?

    xx Jazzy

  4. Gotta say I feel a lot (not all tho) of our kids' behaviors arise from their personalities, as opposed to their autism.
    As the mother of a NT 15 year old boy and an autie 8 year old (not to mention auntie to a 20 year old autistic man), there's just stuff boys do...push boundaries REALLY hard, break things, climb, engage in dangerous behaviour. Heart attack stuff.
    My 12 year old daughter (NT) is calm, creative, and eager to please.
    It's very subjective tho, and is a tough one to call XXX

  5. From an OT's standpoint, it really varies. I delivered a lecture about autism to some OT students a few weeks ago. Some of the students were really shocked how well behaved I was as a child. Even when I acted a bit out of line sometimes nowadays (most of the time due to slips up's in using words in the attempts of trying to socialize), they knew almost never my "out of line" acts were intentional.

    I do agree that it is NOT a boy thing. I think it has to do with a few things- 1. how the child is raised, 2. the support the child gets, 3. the severity of autism. I think there is some interaction between the 3 factors. But, I don't know for sure how much... and for each individual with autism is definitely different.


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