Far too many girls with ADHD and ASD miss out on essential support due to a lack of diagnosis or a misdiagnosis, which can affect so many aspects of their lives. It is important to provide girls with foundational skills  to help them address their challenges and to provide them with emotional and academic support. Teachers can play a significant role in supporting girls with autism. Support can range from being aware of the kinds of behaviour to look out for in a student, to providing specific support once an official diagnosis is made.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Every girl with ASD, like any other girl or student in the classroom, is unique. They have strengths and weaknesses just like any other student. Having an open-minded, uniqueness-embracing approach to teaching that encourages strengths and supports challenges  while exploring with each student individually how they learn best helps all students.  An atmosphere that celebrates diversity will help to bring out the potential in every child and especially benefit those with special needs.

What teachers should look for in order to spot ASD in girls

  • Speech Delay: Not as obvious in younger students, as girls tend to speak earlier than boys but more noticable as girls get older.
  • Difficulty with Social Skills: Many girls with ASD tend to be passive, well-behaved and follow the rules, often being in the position of being manipulated by a more dominant peer. They may also present as overly confident and vocal in their expression towards the teacher and peers, appearing extreme and righteous as they always have something to say or correct about something, In both of these examples, girls struggle with what is considered to be socially appropriate.
  • Sensitivity: Girls with ASD can be highly sensitive and emotional and easily overwhelmed by sensory overload (e.g. in situations like changing rooms between lessons with a high noise level, during snack when there are multiple smells in the room).
  • Conflict and Stress: Self-regulation in situations of conflict can be impossible for children with ASD.
  • Structure and Rules: Students with ASD often have a strong sense of order, and work best (or only) with set rules and structures. In addition, they may have their own rituals that may seem odd to others.
  • Special Interests: In many cases, children with autism have strong special interests. More often than boys, girls’ interests may include music, arts, literature or animals. Boys with ASD may have interests that fit the sterotypes more (computers, video games, etc.).
  • Anxiety: Many girls with ASD experience severe anxiety on a daily basis and may not be able to manage it well.

NOTE: How ASD presents in girls is variable and amongst other factors can depend on whether they have an intellectual disability or a high IQ. (Honeybourne, 2015 and Marshall, 2019)

Supporting Girls with ASD

There are a number of strategies teachers can implement that will benefit girls with autism. These strategies should be informed by a mindset that is not focused on adaptations and modifications to fit one or a few students with special needs. These strategies should be used with an asset-based mindset, one that supports creating and developing a classroom that welcomes neurodiversity and multiple forms of expression.

Classroom Environment

  • Provide structure (classroom set-up and learning experiences).
  • Let students with ASD sit somewhere where they can easily leave the classroom if they need to.
  • Create a quiet area/space within the classroom that you encourage all students to use.
  • Supply noise-cancelling headphones for students who request them.

Learning and Communication

  • Provide students with multiple options to communicate and express themselves. These can include speech and writing and multiple forms of media. This also means honouring students’ requests to communicate one-on-one or in small groups rather than in a whole class discussion.
  • Allow students to work in groups or independently.
  • Have high expectations for all but be flexible as to how students meet or exceed them.
  • Practice differentiation and provide challenging/ stimulating tasks to meet individual student needs.
  • Communicate clearly and, if possible, literally, to prevent confusion. Follow through on what you say and be consistent and reliable.

Peer Relationships

  • Encourage participation in extracurricular activities that engage students interests and connect with like-minded peers.
  • Normalize the use of quiet spaces when needed. Students with ASD often feel overwhelmed during social interactions and may feel the need to take a break. By making it one of your classroom norms, you remove the stigma that students with ASD may feel when they need a break.
  • Structure all activities clearly, providing activities and specific roles for students at break times.

Look back at the story of Ginny

  1. Without a diagnosis of ASD, you do not receive all possible resources in order to support Ginny the way you want (remedial teacher, extra funding). What would be some small interventions that you could apply in your classroom in order to improve her learning process?
  2. What could be the benefits of these interventions?

Teaching and Learning with Girls with ADHD

We have discussed how and why girls with ADHD might not be diagnosed and not receive the help they need. Now it is time to look at what you as a teacher can do to help these girls once they finally are diagnosed. First, we will look at how a teacher can find out about the needs of each individual student. Since girls with ADHD might feel ashamed about their condition, it might take some time for a teacher to earn enough trust in order for the girl to share her difficulties and needs openly. Next, we will look at what a school can do in order to optimize the learning for girls with ADHD. This part will be divided into two separate parts: adjustments in the classroom environment, and adjustments in teaching methods

Identifying girls with ADHD

Girls with ADHD might feel more ashamed about their condition, they have not been trained to be assertive, girls are taught to internalize their problems and girls tend to be willing to please others. All these factors lead to girls not asking for help when they need it and not expressing their needs to their teachers. Girls might feel insecure and anxious about what will happen if they share their needs.

So in order to find out about the needs of girls with ADHD and give these girls the opportunity to share their needs, you could try to implement the following ideas:

  • Create a safe and secure classroom environment
  • If a girl feels included and knows she will not be judged, she will feel less anxious about sharing her difficulties and more willing to ask for help
  • Set up an interview with the student of concern
  • Is the student 9 years old or younger? →  Set up an interview with the student and a parent. In this way, a student feels safe and can share important information about her needs. Furthermore, by inviting a parent a teacher gets an insight into the home-situation as well. This can be helpful by creating an holistic overview that can help to identifying the needs of a student
  • Is the student 10 years or older? → Have the student fill in a self-report scale (Nadeau, Littman & Quinn, 2016). This can be useful for uncovering internal struggles girls with ADHD can experience.

What teachers should look for in order to spot ADHD in girls:

Nadeau, Littman and Quinn (2016, p211) developed a list of typical behaviour presented by girls with ADHD that teachers should look out for when identifying these girls:

  • Compulsive talking
  • Not being able to answer a question, despite looking attentive
  • Having difficulty following directions
  • Frequently asking other students to repeat instructions
  • Rarely finishing assignments, despite appearing to work and sitting quietly
  • Messy desks and lockers
  • Forgetting to turn in permission slips or homework
  • Missing supplies that are needed to do work
  • Seeming to have auditory processing problems
  • Seeming to have expressive language problems
  • A slow rate of working

Important factors to keep in mind when identifying ADHD in girls

  • Girls will not show their struggles, they are more likely to tell you about them when/if you ask.
  • Always provide space for girls to approach you whenever they might have the urge to share something with you
  • Current ADHD guidelines are focused on behaviour in boys
  • Try to always use an open, holistic view when reviewing the behaviour of girls.
  • Beware of the possible ‘referral bias’.
  • Teachers are likely to suffer from a phenomenon called the ‘referral bias’. Several studies (Abikoff et al., 2002; Groenewald et al., 2009)(Coles, Slavec, Bernstein & Baroni, 2010) have found that teachers are more likely to refer students with ADHD symptoms related to hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour to special needs education. Students with the inattentive type of ADHD are more often overlooked by the teacher. Since this type of ADHD is significantly more prevalent amongst girls, they are the ones that are being overlooked by the teacher. Therefore teachers: Be aware of your bias, you might unconsciously overlook girls with ADHD!

Creating Inclusive Classroom Environments

Provide frequent encouragement
  •  Create a safe classroom and encouraging environment where students can share their struggles and worries.

This is especially helpful for girls with ADHD since they often internalize their ADHD. This results in anxiety and fear. By offering a friendly, low-key environment, it becomes easier for girls to approach the teacher and ask for help if needed.

Establish study-buddies or peer mentors
  • Pairing up students can help girls with ADHD next to an organized and friendly student can support the ADHD student with developing her own executive skills (e.g. organizing and planning) due to the positive example and support of her peer-student.
Provide opportunities for more physical activity
  • Make sure to include physical activity within your lessons or during transitions. These frequent movement breaks could be part of the learning or stand on their own. They also provide stress-relieve and can especially benefit students with the hyperactive/impulsive type of ADHD. The beauty of implementing these breaks is that all your students will experience the benefits of more movement throughout the day!
Help create an ADHD-community at your school
  • Students with ADHD might feel isolated at school and girls with ADHD might experience anxiety and shame. Getting your students with ADHD in touch with other students with ADHD could make students feel more part of the community and decrease the feeling of isolation. Knowing that they are not alone might help girls with ADHD to deal with their anxiety and decrease their feeling of shame. Do this carefully and with permission, of course.

Supporting Teaching and Learning

Small group work
  • By working in small groups, students with ADHD will be able to engage in a lot of interaction. This will help them both with developing their social skills and by improving their on-task behaviour. On-task behaviour results in a prolonged attention span.
Meditative practices
  • For students with ADHD, practising meditation will benefit their executive functioning, especially by increasing their attentional awareness. By doing so, students are able to stay focused for a longer period of time. Part of using meditative practices could be emotional control and problem-solving training. By being able to regulate their emotional responses to problems, students with ADHD will develop a more relaxed state of mind and a positive approach to solving problems.
Personalised learning path and instruction
  • Girls with ADHD may/can experience a relatively high amount of shame and fear due to a perfectionistic mind. This often results in a perfectionistic mindset. To work towards a more natural and beneficial mindset, teachers can create personalised learning paths together with the students. There are a few important things to keep in mind when creating these learning paths:
    • Use clear and small goals
    • Make use of clear and constructive feedback
    • Create an organizational routine → this benefits the organizational skills of the student
    • Allow for clear, personalised assignments that fit the adjusted learning
    • If possible, do not mark off for messiness. Often girls with ADHD struggle with this unwillingly due to underdeveloped organizational skills.
Organizational strategies
  • Create a personal checklist for your student with ADHD. This increases ownership of learning and creates a clear overview of tasks
  • Make use of a calendar within your classroom and online. This makes it possible to have an overview of work ready at all times, both at home as well as in the classroom.
  • Minimize the need of taking home schoolwork. Forgetfulness in girls with ADHD could often cause unnecessary issues with forgetting homework or leaving work at school → A great way to solve this is to create an online platform where teachers could post activities and students can upload their results!


It’s Your Turn

In your 2nd grade classroom, there are more students with special needs. Three of your students are diagnosed with ADHD. You want to help all your students as well as possible. At the same time, you want all your student to feel as included as possible.

Looking at the provided strategies in this chapter, what strategies or changes in the classroom environment could you make in order to create an environment that is beneficial to all students in your classroom, no matter their special needs?


Being misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all can have significant negative effects on girls and women with ADHD or ASD. Consequences can include social isolation and identity issues that may lead to severe mental health problems. Therefore, it is necessary to reform the history of a male-centred approach in diagnosis to one that benefits girls and women with ADHD and ASD.

This comes with challenges, especially for teachers that are often already overwhelmed with a variety of learning needs in their students. It is important to note that there is no perfect way of doing this and that it often takes time to recognise certain characteristics as symptoms of ADHD or ASD. This process involves a teacher connecting with each individual student and trying to understand them. Every student is different and so is every case of ADHD and ASD. Taking it one step at a time while making educated and empathetic choices for and with your student is a good start when your overwhelm gets the better of you.

Finally, it is imperative to be aware that a good relationship with your student builds the foundation to recognising their individual needs best. Only when that is a given, the ideal learning environment for a student can be provided.

Apply your knowledge


1. Are girls with ADHD more likely to be extremely organised or messy?

2. What type of activity that also provides stress-relief benefits girls with ADHD?

3. What is the “skill” of masking other people’s facial expressions and social skills often referred to in girls with ASD?

4. What types of relationships should be encouraged, e.g. through shared interests, that girls with ASD often struggle with? Relationships with ______ ?

4. What types of relationships should be encouraged, e.g. through shared interests, that girls with ASD often struggle with? Relationships with ______ ?


Additional Resources

The Girls Night Out Model (GNO)

  • “GNO is a social skill and self-care program designed to address the unique needs of adolescent females with ASD/DD with goals to improve their social-emotional health” (Jamison & Schuttler, 2017, pp. 112) This program is made for girls and women with autism and ADD to assist them with the unique challenges they are facing in their everyday life. It is meant to equip them with tools to thrive, both socially and emotionally.

Limpsfield Grange School, Surrey, United Kingdom

  • Limpsfield Grange is a special school for girls with communication and interaction difficulties, most of which have a diagnosis of autism. This school also is a boarding school.

M is for Autism, by the Students of Limpsfield Grange School and Vicky Martin

  • A book written from the perspective of a teenage girl with autism, portraying her experience of life through the lense of her condition.

The Curly Haired Girl Project

  • “The Curly Hair Project is a social enterprise that supports people on the autistic spectrum and the people around them, founded by autistic author Alis Rowe. We use cool things like animated films, comic strips and diagrams to make our work interesting and easy to understand!”




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Inclusive Perspectives in Primary Education Copyright © 2021 by room305 and Inclusive Education Class 2020-2021 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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