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5581 Focus on Females: Effective Interventions for Issues Facing Girls with ASDs

Thursday, July 7, 2011: 1:00 PM-2:15 PM
Tallahassee 123 (Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center)
Recent research and media attention has suggested that the experiences of females with ASDs may be quite different from those of males. Little is known about how best to meet the unique challenges that females with ASD face. Using material from our book, "Girls Growing Up on the Autism Spectrum" and case examples from our “Girls Clinic,” this session will focus on effective education and intervention strategies for assisting girls and young women with ASD to meet their potential. Part 1: Same disorder, different faces?

In this session, a brief overview of the current literature will be presented about what is known about females with ASDs, including symptom presentation and developmental trajectories that are relevant for education and intervention. Findings have suggested sex differences in play behavior and communication, restricted behavior and interests, timeline of social difficulties, functions of disruptive behavior, and internalizing and externalizing behaviors (Tsai & Beisler, 1983; McLennan, Lord, & Schopler, 1993; Lord, Schopler & Revicki, 1982; Carter et al., 2007; Varley et al., 2007, Verbalis et al., 2007; Hartley & Sikora, 2009;  Knickmeyer et al., 2009). Also of interest is the role played by societal expectations for females and the coping skills girls may develop based on early gender socialization. It is also thought by many professionals that females with ASDs are being missed, or are undiagnosed as a result of their different symptom presentation and an “identification bias”, in which autism is considered a male disorder (Russell, Steer & Golding, 2010).

In order to best meet the needs of girls and young women with ASDs, it is essential to understand what these sex differences mean for practical issues related to treatment, and the unique social, communication, behavioral, and personal wellness experiences of females.

Part 2: Intervention and supports                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              In our program, we have developed a girl’s clinic which has offered specialized clinical services for girls and women for five years (e.g., evaluations, individual therapy, group work, family consultation, community outings), contributing greatly to our understanding of new directions and best practices for working with females with ASDs. 

This presentation will provide parents, educators, and other professionals with a tool kit for addressing the unique issues faced by females with ASDs. Topics discussed will be placed within a developmental framework (e.g., early childhood, middle school, adolescence and young adulthood), and will highlight the relevant differences experienced by girls compared to their male peers with ASDs. Five key topics include:

  • Social - Female friendships and girl bullying (e.g., “mother hen” friends, conversation and cooperation, relational aggression)
  • Self - Self-esteem and self-confidence (e.g., drop in self-esteem in early adolescence; skill development)
  • Mental health – emotions, anxiety, and depression (e.g., emotion regulation, sensory issues, societal expectations, pre-menstrual mood symptoms)
  • Growing up - puberty, healthy sexuality and personal safety (e.g., bras, menstruation management, shaving, abuse prevention skills)
  • Community – creating a community of support for girls and families (e.g., establishing connections with other families, local, national and online resources)

To highlight the above issues, including effective techniques and strategies, we will share case examples of applications from our “Girls with ASD” program, including video-taped personal experiences and suggestions from mothers, their daughters, and women with ASDs.

In our work, we have learned how important it is for girls and parents to connect and learn from each other; we have seen how damaging it can be when girls feel isolated and rejected and begin to withdraw from their family members and peers. Our program is unique to families and daughters in learning not only skills and strategies, but more importantly, a sense of validation and connection: you are not alone. Importantly, there is currently very little information available to families, therapists, or educators about best practices in intervention and education specific to females with ASD, outside of what is known about ASDs in general. In this session, we hope to provide families and the professionals who work with their daughters important information and practical strategies for helping females with ASDs reach their full potential.

Learning Objectives:

  • discuss the literature on what is known about females with ASDs
  • identify issues unique to females with ASDs
  • discuss effective intervention approaches to enhance the quality of life of females with ASDs
  • identify resources for working with females with ASDs

Content Area: Education


Shana Nichols, PhD
ASPIRE Center for Learning and Development

Shana Nichols is a licensed psychologist and Owner and Director of ASPIRE Center for Learning and Development. She specializes in females with ASD, growing up and mental health interventions. Dr. Nichols has extensive expertise in assessment, psychotherapy, consultation and training. She also conducts applied research associated with her clinical programming.

Samara Pulver Tetenbaum, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist
ASPIRE Center for Learning and Development

Dr. Tetenbaum is a licensed clinical psychologist and has been working in the field of ASDs for 9 years. She currently works primarily with children and adolescents with ASDs and their families. She has extensive expertise in cognitive behavioral therapy, positive behavior support, diagnostic assessment and family work.