Restricted and ‘repetitive’ behaviours, activities and interests
‘stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech’
‘highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus’
Over or under activity ‘to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment’
- Autistic males are often more interested in ‘objects’
- Autistic females may be more interested in topics with ‘relational’ purposes, showing more motivation to form relationships with people or pets as opposed to ‘objects’
Individuals who mask, may supress their ‘stimming’ behaviours in order to ‘fit in’, or may engage in stimming behaviours that appear more ‘socially acceptable’, such as twirling their hair, or doodling.
They may also mask their response to sensory overload, where their sensory environment becomes too overwhelming.
It is understood that there are further differences between autistic males and females in the ways in which they express distress:
|Inwards expression; may include anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and self harm
|Outward expression; physical behaviours directed towards others/the environment
- Autistic males are more likely to experience externalising distress.
- Autistic females are significantly more likely to have co-occurring internalising conditions than males.
What signs are there that may indicate autistic characteristics in females?
- Masking: You may hear from your child or young adult’s school that they appear to be ‘fine’ in school, however you have observed that they are avoiding going to school in the morning, and may express exhaustion at the end of the school day, which may present in behaviours that challenge.
- Camouflaging: Copying others, preparing a script for social interactions and rehearsing these prior to the social interaction, being highly observant of others e.g., if others laugh, laughing too, even if they have not understood the context or the joke.
- Having passionate but limited interests: Such as only watching one film, and watching this repeatedly.
- Difficulties in maintaining friendships: This can include overthinking every interaction, and/or having regular disputes with friends.
- Appearing to be ‘passive’: Often saying ‘yes’ to everything, and/or appearing to be shy.
- Difficulties in understanding emotions and seeing things from other people’s points of view: Can also be overly empathetic, and be very good in recognising emotions in other people, whilst experiencing difficulties in understanding and managing their own emotions.
- Highly sensitive to sensory experiences: E.g., sound and smell, and food selectivity. Although, this is just as common in autistic men, and not necessarily more common in females.
It is important to remember that due to autism being a ‘spectrum’, each person has different needs, meaning that males may also present with the female characteristics described in this factsheet, and that females may also present with the traditional, ‘male centric’ characteristics described.
When speaking to professionals, it is important to emphasise your child’s characteristics if you feel they could be autistic, to ensure that they are not misdiagnosed. See our Navigating support factsheet for more information about the professionals that may be involved.
1 Hull et al, 2020, The Female Autism Phenotype and Camouflaging: a Narrative Review https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40489-020-00197-9
2 Sedgewick et al., 2015 Gender Differences in the Social Motivation and Friendship Experiences of Autistic and Non-autistic Adolescents – PubMed (nih.gov)
3 Solomon et al., 2012 Autism Symptoms and Internalizing Psychopathology in Girls and Boys with Autism Spectrum Disorders – PMC (nih.gov)