When Austrian doctor Hans Asperger first identified Asperger Syndrome in 1944, he believed that only boys could have it. In fact, for a long time, scientists believed that autism in all its forms was an extreme form of "maleness." For example, a high-functioning autistic boy often has intellectual abilities in "male" fields like engineering and mathematics, and yet no social understanding of emotions and body language - traditional "female" strengths.
Beginning in the 1960s, scientists tried to understand how Asperger Syndrome was inherited. Their theory was that boys inherit only one male X chromosome from their mothers, but girls inherit two (one from each parent). Therefore, girls do not develop Asperger Syndrome because the extra X chromosome from their fathers somehow "protects" them from it. However, this research has been inconclusive.
The new theory is that just as many girls have Asperger Syndrome, but they are not diagnosed because they "present" the syndrome differently than boys do. All Aspie children have problems reading social cues and body language, knowing the right thing to do in public, waiting their turns, and developing empathy for others. However, when boys get frustrated, they tend to act out in aggressive ways that get adult attention. Aspie girls tend to suffer in silence and appear shy and passive. Adults overlook their problems, and that is why five boys to every girl are diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome.
Aspie girls typically use their average to above-average intelligence to hide their social difficulties. Pretending To Be Normal is the title of an autobiography by Liane Holliday-Willey, a famous Aspie. It could be the title of most Aspie girls' life stories. Since they do not understand how to process and express emotions in a normal way, their faces often develop a "mask-like" quality. Typically, they put a permanent smile on their faces and constantly try to please others. Some social scientists believe that girls are better at developing such ways of camouflaging their disorder because they are socialized to be passive.
Girls with Asperger's learn to mimic what other children do. However, without role models, they cannot figure out what to do on their own. They often memorize scripts when they have to interact with others. For example, one girl keeps chanting, "No thank you, I'm just looking," every time she has to enter a store.
Most little girls play with dolls, but they use them to act out little psychodramas and fairy tales with one another. Aspie girls are more likely to enjoy arranging them. They may alphabetize their Barbies by outfit, for example. They enjoy playing dolls by themselves and find the other girls' creative play boring or disruptive.
According to Dr. Tony Attwood, a leading expert on Asperger Syndrome, Aspie boys often appear like "little professors" who are expert in one subject. However, Aspie girls are more like "little philosophers." They may wonder if all people see the same color as blue, for instance, or analyze the meaning of the word "mind." They often appear odd or cold, or seem to live in fantasy worlds. They may love animals, but in an obsessive way. For example, if an Aspie girl loves horses, she may want to spend every waking hour riding, grooming her horse, or even sleeping in the stable.
In elementary school, these girls often cope by finding one good friend. This friend is often kind and motherly, and her friendship is a lifeline to the girls with Asperger's Syndrome. In fact, if she moves away, it has devastating consequences. Another way that young girls cope with their disorder is by playing with boys. Male games are rule-oriented and do not require as much social and emotional understanding as female interactions do.
Girls with Asperger Syndrome often develop deeper problems as teenagers. During a time in life when everyone else is obsessed with fashion and fads, Asperger teens often dress in a haphazard way, not following fashion but preferring to wear the same comfortable outfit day after day. They may not wash or use deodorant unless prompted by their families. They may still enjoy toys and games that were popular in grammar school. They may not have the organizational skills needed for high school level work. When their parents try to bring them up to speed and to help them conform to their world, many girls with Asperger's rebel from what they perceive as constant parental criticism.
Teen girls with Asperger Syndrome often find female friendships to be very demanding and even overwhelming. They don't understand their adolescent friends' extreme emotional ups and downs - why they cry when they get a failing grade or if a boy does not call. Author Diane Kennedy quotes a "Dear John" letter written by an Aspie girl to her best friend, "Your expectations exhaust me. The phone calls, the girl talk, the whole feelings thing. It's too much for me anymore."
One constant worry for parents is that their teenage daughter will be the victim of a sexual predator. This is a valid worry, for Asperger girls are often na´ve about sex. They misinterpret boys' signals and allow them to use them.
The modern way of thinking is that the sooner a girl is diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and receives professional help, the better. Using modern learning tools, she can learn to read facial expressions and body language. She can develop the skills she will need for independent living as an adult. The earlier she gets help, the less she suffers in silence.