Awareness of young women with autism is growing, West Sussex conference hears

autismParents and professionals from across West Sussex have attended a conference in a bid to find out more about autism in females.

The conference, called A Different Difference, was held in Crawley and was organised by West Sussex County Council.

The conference heard how awareness of the different ways in which autism presents in females is growing.

It is the first time a conference specifically on autism in girls and young women has been held in the county.

Experts including Dr Laura Cockburn from the NAS Lorna Wing Foundation and Sarah Wild, headteacher of Limpsfield Grange, a special girls school in Surrey where over 50% of the pupils are on the autistic spectrum, talked about how autism can affect females and discussed strategies to support them.

The conference was told there is now more awareness of girls with autistic spectrum conditions copying their peers (known as ‘social echolalia’). Girls tend to be more socially interested and develop their own strategies to fit in by observing and learning  from their peers. They are also often observed deriving pleasure from getting lost in imaginary worlds.

Sarah Wild talked about the isolation of parents and described how many said they did not know of other parents with a daughter with autism.

She said young women with autism tended to be anxious and there were often links with eating disorders and self-harming.

Dr Laura Cockburn said neither women nor men with autism consistently conformed to a stereotype and the way autism affects individuals is highly variable.

As well as the keynote speakers, delegates were able to choose from a range of workshops which included  first-hand accounts from two young women on the autistic spectrum; a parent’s perspective ; advice on sleep and diet, as well as  a session by Sussex Police on internet safety.

Young women, parents and professionals who spoke showed that despite dealing with high levels of anxiety and other difficulties there can be some very positive outcomes.

Peter Evans, West Sussex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children – Start of Life,said: “With awareness about autism in girls and young women growing, it was important that we held this conference to bring together experts, young people and their parents to share knowledge for more positive outcomes. The feedback from delegates confirmed the growing interest and need for support in this area.”

The conference was organised by West Sussex County Council’s Social Communication Team. The team works with schools to provide support for children with autism or difficulties with communication.

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