Unveiling the hidden spectrum: Why girls and autism often go unseen
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Unveiling the hidden spectrum: Why girls and autism often go unseen

Unveiling the hidden spectrum: Why girls and autism often go unseen
Image by Freepik

Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental condition characterised by social-communication challenges, restricted and repetitive behaviours, and sensory processing difficulties. While the prevalence of autism is estimated at 1 in 54 children, research suggests a significant disparity in diagnoses between genders. Boys are diagnosed with autism roughly four times more often than girls, leading us to question: Why are girls so much harder to diagnose with autism?

The answer lies in a complex interplay of factors, including:

1. Different presentations of autistic traits:

  • Socialisation: The stereotypical image of autism often portrays boys with aloofness and a lack of interest in social interaction. However, autistic girls may exhibit more subtle social difficulties. They may appear interested in socialising but struggle with understanding social cues, maintaining eye contact, or navigating complex social dynamics. This ability to ‘camouflage’ their challenges can lead to misinterpretations of their intentions and abilities.
  • Restricted interests: While autistic boys may have intense interests in stereotypically ‘masculine’ topics like dinosaurs or trains, girls might gravitate towards interests traditionally associated with girls, like specific characters or activities. These interests, often deemed ‘typical’ might be overlooked as potential indicators of autism.
  • Repetitive behaviours: Repetitive behaviours are another core diagnostic feature of autism. However, autistic girls may exhibit these behaviours in more subtle ways, such as intense focus on specific routines, scripting conversations, or engaging in repetitive social interactions. These subtle expressions can easily go unnoticed.

2. The ‘camouflage’ effect:

Autistic girls, particularly those with higher cognitive abilities, may develop coping mechanisms to mask their challenges in social situations. This ‘camouflaging’ can involve mimicking social behaviours they observe in others, leading to significant internal distress and exhaustion. This effort to appear ‘normal/typical’ can further hinder accurate diagnosis.

3. Societal biases and diagnostic tools:

  • Gender bias: The current diagnostic criteria for autism were largely developed based on studies of boys, leading to a potential bias towards male presentations of the condition. This can result in girls who don’t exhibit the ‘typical’ symptoms being missed altogether.
  • Lack of awareness: Healthcare professionals and educators may have limited awareness of how autism manifests differently in girls. This lack of understanding can lead to misinterpretations of their behaviours and missed opportunities for diagnosis and support. I must say that this is really common in my working day. I see a child—girls or boys in this case to be fair, but mainly girls—where parents tell me: the doctor/health visitor/paediatrician has said it was ‘just a little delay’ and I am thinking ‘Really!??? What did they look at? How did they not see X Y Z’… It really is still very common.

4. Co-occurring conditions:

Autistic girls are more likely to experience co-occurring conditions like anxiety and depression, which can overshadow the core features of autism. This makes it even more challenging to identify the underlying autism diagnosis.

The consequences of missed diagnoses and this goes of course for both, autistic girls AND boys!:

The consequences of undiagnosed autism can be significant. Children may experience:

  • Lack of access to appropriate support: Without a diagnosis, children may miss out on crucial interventions and therapies that can help them manage their challenges and thrive.
  • Increased vulnerability to mental health issues: The stress of masking and navigating social complexities can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges.
  • Difficulty forming meaningful relationships: Social difficulties and communication challenges can hinder their ability to build and maintain healthy relationships.

Moving forward: Towards a more inclusive diagnosis:

To ensure all individuals on the spectrum receive the support they need, it’s crucial to:

  • Increase awareness and education: Healthcare professionals, educators, and the general public need to be educated about the diverse presentations of autism in girls and of course also in boys. Let’s not forget that we are still seeing older autistic boys with diagnoses given aged 12 years and older who have slipped through the net.
  • Develop gender-neutral diagnostic tools: Diagnostic criteria and assessments should be revised to encompass the broader spectrum of autistic traits, regardless of gender.
  • Encourage open communication: Parents, caregivers, and individuals themselves should be encouraged to voice their concerns and seek evaluations, even if their experiences don’t perfectly align with stereotypical presentations of autism.

By acknowledging the complexities of diagnosing autism, particularly in girls, and working towards a more inclusive approach, we can pave the way for earlier diagnoses, appropriate support, and a brighter future for all individuals on the autism spectrum.

Do get in touch if you would like some in-person or on-line 1:1 support with this. It can be overwhelming to figure it all out alone.


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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Stage 2 NLA
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Stage 2 NLA

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Last time we asked: is our child ready tp move to Stage 2 NLA (Natural Language Acquisition stage 2) and we looked at how we can know. Now we know: he/she is ready, they are mixing and matching those scripts quite liberally! Hurrah!

So for example we hear phrases like:

  • ‘let’s go’+ ‘downstairs’
  • ‘it’s’ + ‘downstairs’
  • ‘I see it’ + ‘downstairs‘
  • ‘I want to’ + ‘shoes downstairs’ (I want to put my shoes on downstairs)

To recap, it’s important to listen out to a variety of contexts because if we only hear the single version of a gestalt —this is so great, hurrah!— but that’s not yet Stage 2.

What we can now do on a daily basis to help and support at this time:

1. We need to offer more ‘mix and match’ phrases to help our child establish this new way of communicating.

Good phrases:

  • It’s … raining / cooking / eating / washing / brushing
  • That’s … great / cool / amazing / wow / so good
  • Let’s … see / look / go / run / chase
  • How’bout … some food / playing / I’ll chase / sleeping / we read a book
  • I see a … bird / large car / fire engine
  • I wanna … have a biscuit / have a book / have a snuggle
  • We’re … going out / going home / going in the car / going upstairs

Here in my video clip of train play I use:

  • Let’s go
  • It’s going up the hill
  • It’s coming down
  • Ooops it falls!
  • It’s stopping
  • Let’s put on another parcel
  • Ready steady go
  • Off we go
  • It’s come off!
  • Let’s fix it
  • I can do it
  • I don’t need help

You can offer these gestalts either with an AAC as you can see me do in the video clip or you can just verbally offer these.

2. Watch out for Pronoun confusion or reversal:

Gestalt kids repeat gestalts, so we don’t want to create ‘pronoun reversal’.

Instead model from a:

  • first person perspective: ‘I’ / ‘Our’ / ‘Us’
  • joint perspective: ‘We’ / ‘Let’s’ or a
  • neutral perspective: ‘It’

You can turn almost any sentence into a good language model once you get used to it. And you can avoid ‘you’ and ‘your’ at the same time!

So instead of saying, ‘Do you want to go to the park?’

You could say:

  • We wanna go to the park?
  • Let’s go out?
  • Shall we go out / to the park?

3. Start providing ‘variation’ in your language modelling:

Instead of just modelling something one way, start thinking about offering a pattern in a couple of other ways, in a couple of different situations, then several ways in several different situations.

Example: once you hear your child saying: ‘it’s raining’ and you know it’s a mitigation, because you don’t often say ‘it’s raining’, or haven’t said it in a while and you know your child says other ‘it’s’ phrases.

Repeat: ‘it’s raining!’

Then: ‘it’s’ + ‘raining hard’ / ‘it’s wet out there’ / ‘It’s’ + ‘raining lot’s’.

Then later think of other combinations for ‘it’s’ + ‘something’:

  • (rice) ‘It’s’ + ‘cooking’
  • (water/tap) ‘It’s’ + ‘running’
  • (radio) ‘It’s’ + ‘singing
  • (dog) ‘It’s’ + ‘peeing’ / ‘it’s’ + ‘running’ / ‘it’s’ + ‘jumping’

In my train video clip:

  • Let’s go
  • It’s going
  • Let’s make it go
  • Ready steady go
  • Oops its gone

4. Use natural intonation that shows you really mean what you’re saying.

You can be animated or try for musical if your child prefers that / doesn’t mind you singing —they might not like it if their hearing is pitch perfect and your singing is off key…—

  • ‘I’m’ + ‘trying to find you!’ (animated, goofy face)
  • ‘I’m’ +’ getting tired!’ (exaggerated stretch and yawn)
  • ‘I’m’ + ‘catching up with you!’ (animated goofy)
  • ‘I’m’ + ‘gonna get you!’ (animated goofy)
  • ‘I’m’ + ‘sad right now’ (exaggerated face and tone of voice)

5. USE SILENCE!

Important, I might not have said this before but we need to hold back sometimes (hard I know) and not constantly offer models. Let our child sit in a bit of silence with us there just observing and waiting for their own offers. This is a very important point. Silence is golden sometimes. Try it out. I am not talking about the silence that comes with a person scrolling on their phone though, we do need to be present and receptive.

You will see this works wonders!

Do get in touch if you would like some in-person or on-line 1:1 support with this. It can be overwhelming to figure it all out alone.

You can also check my friend’s lovely handmade jewelry on her website.


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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How do we know our Gestalt Learner is moving to Stage 2?
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How do we know our Gestalt Learner is moving to Stage 2?

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Is our student ready to move to NLA 2 (Natural Language Acquisition stage 2)?

We know that the GLP (Gestalt Language Processor) will move into the next stage when they are ready. But are they now ready you might think? When are they ready? How do I know? If you are not sure whether your child is ready to move forward then go and see your GLP trained Speech Therapist. Together you can work out what the next steps are and how to help your child settle into NLA 2. It’s very exciting!!

Tip

The first useful tip: keep a language sample of phrases your child says. This is very helpful!

You might want to check with your Speech Therapist and offer some language sampling you have taken so they can help you figure out where your child is currently. Always keep an Utterance Journal that you can share with your Speech Therapist and with others who look after your child.

Basically, we want to listen out for phrases our child says that you or nursery don’t say routinely; that way you can presume that this is not an echo but a mixing together of two chunks of gestalts. Watch out for those coco melon phrases though: double check it really isn’t an NLA 1 gestalt that is copied verbatim from a favourite you tube video.

You can best support your child best by listening, and thus figuring out what your child is TRYING TO SAY. Often your child might skip over the parts of gestalts they don’t want to say. This is common in older kids who have long gestalts, sometimes even whole episodes or whole stories!

Try and tease out their shorter mitigations and then focus on practicing and modelling those as they are so much more useful!

So back to our question: are they ready?

Are their gestalts covering a variety of situations and contexts?

Make a note in your journal to see what the backgrounds are to each phrase you ear, so for example:

  • Transitioning: ‘it’s time for the park’ ‘what’s next’ ‘shoes on’
  • Bed Time: ‘we need to wash’ ‘let’s get in (bath/bed)’ ‘ready for our book’
  • Toilet/nappy: ‘we need the potty’ ‘where’s the potty’ ‘let’s wash hands’
  • Mealtime: ‘time to eat’ ‘go get a spoon’ ‘yummy num num’
  • Park/going out: ‘look at the squirrel’ ‘funny doggy’ ‘I wanna swing’
  • At the shops: ‘let’s get the trolley’ ‘lots of veggies’ ‘no tomatoes’ ‘ooh long queue’ ‘back to the car’

And… does the child use the phrases for a variety of functions?

  • labelling
  • providing information
  • calling out
  • affirming
  • requesting
  • protesting
  • directing

We need to offer lots of similar language models so that in their own time our children can extract/mitigate useful phrases for what they want to express. The more similar utterances a child hears around him the more he/she can discover the communalities. Once the child has a small range of phrases, he/she can mix them up and create semi-original own phrases.

If the answer is YES!! our child has perhaps not all but a range of functions and a range of situations where they use a variety of easily mitigable gestalts then yes they are ready for moving to stage 2 of NLA!

Hurrah!

Keeping a journal of what your child is saying and in what circumstance is crucial to help with our ongoing detective work!

Next time I will be looking at how we can help our NLA 2 GLP produce even more of their own mix and match phrases.

If you need help with your child, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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Autism – Benefits of Early Assessment and Intervention
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Autism – Benefits of Early Assessment and Intervention

I think my child might be autistic – how can we help?
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Consulting a Specialist Speech and Language Therapist can help you in several ways: assessment, informal and formal observation, discussion and advice, onward referrals, direct intervention, parent coaching, educational support and much more, all geared towards supporting you the parents, and helping your child to flourish and thrive.

First up, we can help you with assessment and advice: with a wealth of expertise in observing childrens’ play and communication, as well as knowledge of the latest research we can see a child’s strengths and areas of struggle very quickly indeed.

Within a short space of time, we can identify the areas we need to focus on and start guiding you towards helping your child to connect, respond, react and feel better.

Early detection is key

If autism is detected in infancy, then therapy can take full advantage of the brain’s plasticity. It is hard to diagnose Autism before 18 months but there are early signs we know to look out for. Let’s have a brief look at the sorts of things we look at.

The earliest signs of Autism involve more of an absence of typical behaviours and not the presence of atypical ones.

  • Often the earliest signs are that a baby is very quiet and undemanding. Some babies don’t respond to being cuddled or spoken to. Baby is being described as a ‘good baby, so quiet, no trouble at all’.
  • Baby is very object focused: he/she may look for long periods of time at a red spot/twinkly item further away, at the corner of the room for example.
  • Baby does not make eye contact: we can often see that a baby looks at your glasses for example instead of ‘connecting’ with your eyes.
  • At around 4 months we should see a baby copying adults’ facial expressions and some body movements, gestures and then increasingly cooing sounds we make; babies who were later diagnosed with autism were not seen to be doing this.
  • Baby does not respond with smiles by about 6 months.
  • By about 9 months, baby does not share sounds in a back-and-forth fashion.
  • By about 12 months baby does not respond/turn their heads when their name is called.
  • By around 16 months we have no spoken words; perhaps we hear sounds that sound like ‘speech’ but we cannot make out what the sounds are.
  • By about 24 months we see no meaningful two-word combinations that are self-generated by the toddler. We might see some copying of single words.

24 months plus:

  • Our child is not interested in other children or people and seems unaware of others in the same room/play area.
  • Our child prefers to play alone, and dislikes being touched, held or cuddled.
  • He/she does not share an interest or draw attention to their own achievements e.g., ‘daddy look I got a dog’.
  • We can see our child not being aware that others are talking to them.
  • We see very little creative pretend play.
  • In the nursery our child might be rough with other children, pushing, pinching or scratching, biting sometimes; or our child might simply not interact with others and be unable to sit in a circle when asked to.

What sort of speech and language difficulties might we see?

Our child might do any of the following:

  • have no speech at all, but uses body movements to request things, takes adults by the hand
  • repeat the same word or phrase over and over; sometimes straight away after we have said it or sometimes hours later
  • repeat phrases and songs from adverts or videos, nursery rhymes or what dad says every day when he gets back from work etc.
  • copy our way of intonation
  • not understand questions – and respond by repeating the question just asked:
    • adult: Do you want apple? child: do you want apple?
  • not understand directions or only high frequency directions in daily life
  • avoid eye contact or sometimes ‘stares’
  • lack of pointing or other gestures

Common behaviours:

  • Hand flapping
  • Rocking back-and-forth
  • Finger flicking or wriggling/moving
  • Lining up items/toys
  • Wheel spinning, spinning around self
  • Flicking lights on and off, or other switches
  • Running back-and-forth in the room, needing to touch each wall/door
  • Loud screaming when excited
  • Bashing ears when frustrated or excited
  • Atypical postures or walking, tip toeing, can be falling over easily, uncoordinated
  • Can be hyper sensitive to noises, smells, textures, foods, clothing, hair cutting, washing etc.
  • Being rigid and inflexible, needing to stick to routines, unable to transition into new environments
  • Food sensitivity, food avoidance, food phobias

I mentioned this to be a ‘brief’ look at the areas and it is: each topic is looked at very deeply and each area is multi-facetted therefore a diagnosis is rarely arrived at very quickly. We want to make sure we have covered all aspects and have got to know your child very well before coming to conclusions.

Early detection is key, because we want to start helping your child to make progress as quickly as is possible. If you feel /know that your child is delayed in their speech and language development and you would like a professional opinion then please do contact me, I look forward to supporting you. It is important to know at this point, that if your child only has one or two of the above aspects it may mean that your child is simply delayed for reasons other than Autism and if that is the case, we will be able to help you iron out a few areas of need so that your child can go on thriving.

If you need help with your child, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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Developing Joint Attention
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Developing Joint Attention

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Joint attention skills what are they and how can we facilitate those?

Most of us want to make friends, connect with others and bond with a friend or be part of a community. To do so we need to develop an important social skill which is: initiating, responding to, and maintaining ‘shared/joint attention’ with another. When we can do this, we are able to focus on the same thing with another person or a group of people: music, hobbies, sport, art, books, toys, games or memories: remember when we did x y z…

Many children who struggle with speech and language development are not able to share or hold attention with another person very easily. My latest blog is all about what we can do to help our children develop Joint Attention.

So to re-cap, joint or shared attention happens when one person gets the other’s attention by either words, or gestures like pointing to something and saying ‘OMG look over there!’ – both people look at that same thing.

What does it take to have or develop this skill?

We need to first of all find something of interest that captivates our own attention. This part is usually not difficult for most people or children.

Then, crucially, we need to direct our focus away from what we find interesting, for long enough to get another person’s attention onto the same topic. This could be just seconds or it could be longer if we are very determined and good at embracing others into our experience. But if we are not then it must not take longer than seconds!

Let me give an example: if someone is in the room with me whilst I see something strange out the window, I would take that second to draw their attention to it. However, I might not be bothered to run upstairs and find someone only to show them something odd outside in the road. If I am very bored, I might do! But as I am rarely bored it is unlikely. So, unless someone else is right here with me, they are not going to be part of that particular experience, I would not share it.

Back to our child: if we make it difficult for a child who is not naturally inclined to share an interest then it is not going to happen. We must be ready, and right there for our child to have that fleeting second to look at us before returning to their hobby/interest.

This skill ‘to share a moment’ tends to develop around 12 months of age and starts with a child pointing to things. Prior to that, our child might give us something or come to show us a thing. Joint attention underpins language skills and is strong predictors of later language development (Law et al, 2017).

What are the signs that my child is struggling with Joint Attention?

  • Tunes out or does not respond when I call their name
  • Cannot follow my suggestions for games or toys/play activities
  • Does not point to anything of interest, like a truck passing by, or an aeroplane in the sky
  • Ignores or does not respond to what I say, does not follow instructions, only when he/she wants to

What can I do to help with this?

Here are some ideas you can follow in no particular order – see which one sticks:

  1. Get down to your child’s eye/face level, we call it ‘face to face’. It does not require your child to make eye contact with you but they might just do so more easily if you are ‘just there’ and don’t have to crook their neck to look up at you. When reading a book with your child, instead of sitting behind try sitting opposite him/her.
  2. Mirror play – making funny faces together in a mirror can be fun.
  3. COPY your child: top tip!! Imitate your child’s vocalisations and actions. Even if these are repetitive, just enjoy the ride.
  4. Follow your child and let your child take the lead in the play activity. What does that look like? The adult has no agenda, does not want to teach, to ask questions (see point number 9) does not want to direct or show the child how to ‘do it better/differently’ – instead accept that the child is the boss when it comes to their play and take their lead in how a toy should be played with.
  5. Hold up objects to your face or at eye level so that your child can see your face and the item at the same time.
  6. Be the ‘funniest thing’ in the room; be hugely entertaining, watchable and offer the ‘irresistible invitation’ to look at you or play with you.
  7. Offer PEOPLE TOYS (any toy where another person is needed to have fun) so: wind-up toys, bubbles, anything that needs opening or holding or doing which is tricky for the child to do alone. I always try and hide the buttons that make something ‘go’ so that my child needs to come back to me for ‘more/again’.
  8. Do PEOPLE GAMES – as above really but games that do not need a toy, that need another person to have fun: being swung round, row row the boat, being pushed on a swing etc.
  9. REDUCE ASKING QUESTIONS – this is my favourite top tip!!! Instead of asking lots of questions try and make simple statements/comments on what is happening so there is absolutely no pressure on your child to ‘perform’. Equally, silence is actually golden sometimes! An odd bit of advice from a speech therapist? Try sitting with your child, next to them or opposite and just don’t talk but simply BE… yes easier said than done, I do know this. Turn off your phone (OMG did I just say that!?) yes, please turn it off and just be with your child for a little while, just like a comfy buddy who is just enjoying their company with no agenda. You might be very surprised how your child suddenly seeks you out!

I will write about more ideas on this in my next blog so look out for more play ideas to encourage Joint Attention.

Most important, try and have fun with your child. Think about what is fun for her or him. And make it EASY for your child, remember unless you are ‘right there’ it might not happen so easily.

Happy New Year!

If you need help with your child, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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