When I first started on my Asperger’s self-discovery journey, I googled for “aspergers traits females” or something similar. One of the first websites I came upon was Tania Marshall’s list of traits in young girls of preschool age (link to this list on her site–a highly-recommended read!).
I remember nodding vigorously while reading that list for the first time, and as I scrolled through, I started to tear up. I’m pretty sure some of those tears spilled over.
Her checklist is pretty comprehensive and accurate. It does account for the diversity and variance of Asperger’s presentation in the female population, which I admire. She also states that not every trait will be present in every Aspie female.
How did I measure up?
1 – Intense emotions: in particular separation anxiety, stress, anxiety or distress. This is coupled with an inability to be comforted by affection, distracted by a toy or change in situation or by discussion or conversation with an adult. Anxiety and “shyness” is very common.
My answer: Oh my, yes. Separation anxiety and distress were at the forefront. I remember crying for my mom as a toddler (probably around age two or three); I could see her working through the window, but I couldn’t reach her (either verbally or physically). This has been one of my most painful memories to date. I could indeed be comforted by affection or distracted by a toy, most of the time. But I was always pretty anxious and shy.
2 – Sensory Sensitivities: there are most often sensory sensitivities involving vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch, balance and/or movement and intuition or a 6th sense. This is known as sensory processing disorder (SPD). First signs may include a sensitive head, not liking to have their hair brushed or washed, clothing sensitivities, food sensitivities.
My answer: Absolutely! I hated having my hair brushed because it was painful, even though my mom wasn’t trying to be rough. I didn’t wear jeans until I was about 11, because they didn’t stretch and conform to my body shape like other clothing did. I’ve always hated the sensation of water on my body. Feeding me during infancy and toddlerhood was a real chore; I would spit the food back out, spraying it in the air, toward whomever was feeding me. In fact, my mom remarked frequently that I didn’t like to put anything in my mouth.
3 – Coping with transitions and/or change: an inability or difficulty coping with change or a resistance to change.
My answer: I’m not entirely sure. I do know that it took a while for me to stop doing one activity and “shift gears” into another activity. New babysitters were also sort of a point of contention; once we became familiar with each other (a two-way street between our babysitters and me), life got easier.
4 – Language skills: atypical or unusual traits in terms of the development of language skills. May have more formal or pedantic use of language. May not be able to express in words what she wants to say. Articulate. Rehearsed in speech patterns.
My answer: I’m not very sure about this one, either, in terms of an inability to verbally express what I want to say. I do know that I didn’t talk much at all until I was two years old. I was definitely a formal speaker, by the age of kindergarten. I usually consider myself rather articulate.
5 – Speech: may not typically be delayed, however there may be a loudness or softness in the voice. May regress to babyish talk when stressed, anxious or avoiding something. She may have begun talking very early.
My answer: I do remember my mom reminding me to speak at a lower volume. I don’t think I ever regressed to babytalk under stress. I didn’t exactly begin talking early, but I’ll add this caveat. My mom says, with pride (lol) that once I did begin talking at age two, my sentences were clear, compound, and complex.
6 – The social use of language: may be apparent in that the linguistic profile can often include semantic-pragmatic difficulties, so that the pedantic speech may be apparent and there are noticeable eccentricities with the “art of conversation”. May use bigger words than her peers. She may also be socially immature, in comparison to her peers.
My answer: I did use bigger words than my peers. I’m not sure about the rest of this list item, though. I don’t disagree with it; I’m just not sure.
7 – Hyperlexia: may have taught herself to read before formal education. Aspiengirls often have an intense interest in reading and develop an advanced vocabulary.
My answer: Oh hell yes. I remember already being in the process of learning to read at three years old, which means it probably began before then. My interest in reading was indeed intense; I devoured every library book I could find. Interestingly enough, I enjoy fiction; very little of my reading was nonfiction. However, I’m picky about my fiction; I can’t seem to get into the very strange or science fiction. “A Wrinkle In Time” or any L. Ron Hubbard books never appealed to me; my brain could never “latch on” to them.
8 – Play: adults may notice the aspiengirl may not want to play with others or she may direct others play, rather than play in a reciprocal and co-operative manner. There is an element of her being “controlling” or “bossy”. She may tell adults that she finds her peers play confusing, boring or stupid. She may prefer to play on her own, with her animals/toys or with boys. If she is extroverted, she may have difficulty with personal space (hugging and/or touching too much, poking or prodding, bumping or touching them, continually calling her peers names, not understanding that a best friend can play with others). Often may need more solitude than their peers or may not be able to socialize for as long as their peers are able to. Engages mainly in parallel play and seeks the company of adults/educators throughout the day.
My answer: All of this applied to me. I didn’t like playing with others, because they would “do it wrong” or “waste time” by engaging in “pointless and trivial” vignettes using the toys themselves, which indeed did bore me. I felt bossy, even as a child, and my mom would often mention the word “controlling” in connection with me. Playing alone solved that problem, leaving no room for an opportunity to get into a conflict or waste time with the typical childlike vignettes. Reciprocating sucked.
9 – Interests: an aspiengirl’s interests is usually different to other typical girls, in its intensity and quality, rather than the actual interest itself. Often, play can be observed as more of complex set-up’s, organizing, sorting, collect or grouping items rather than actually playing with them. She may be observed re-enacting a social scene form her own experiences at daycare. A commonly observed interest is collecting stationary/art items, teddy bears, and the like.
My answer: Yes, to all of this, too. I had collections of rocks, rainbows, and feathers when I was very young, and then Legos after that. I did build things with Legos, and sometimes my sister and I would act out vignettes with those. The intensity was indeed higher than what’s considered “normal”; my mom jokes about my rainbow and feather collections to this day.
10 – Conventionality: Aspiengirls are born “öut of the box” and may be observed playing unconventionally. Some prefer Lego, the sandpit, trucks or cars or dinosaurs. Many think in different or unconventional ways, asking continual and exhausting amount of questions pertaining to how things work, why things are the way they are, or why people do or say certain things. Many are quite highly sensitive adn will ask about death and or what happens after death.
My answer: Yep, again, Legos were definitely among my favorite toys. I also had matchbox cars, and I did prefer to play in the sand/dirt. For hours, I could be seen building little castles or forts and roads in the sandy dirt road in front of our house. One of my favorite books was “How Things Work” in the Childcraft Annual Series (link to decent-although-basic Wiki article). I did ask “why” fairly frequently; my mom was extremely patient and accommodating, and did her best to satisfy my curiosity.
11 – Appearance and clothing: Young Aspiens may look more tomboyish in appearance or ultra princess-like, usually preferring clothing that is comfortable. She may want the tags cut out of her clothes and complain about the seams in her socks. She may prefer to wear the same outfit day in and day out.
My answer: Yes, to the tomboyish part, although not so much the “princess” part. I insisted that my clothing be comfortable; I couldn’t stand scratchy tags or scratchy material, nor could I tolerate wearing dresses or skirts; stockings/tights felt extremely confining, and they were scratchy, too. They never stayed in place. Pants were corduroys, because they were soft and comfortable. Socks were always thicker and knee-high; this cut down on the air-draft that tickled my lower legs (a custom of which I maintain to this day). The seams on the socks must indeed be straight; my mother says that I would scream (her word) until they were set straight.
12 – Imagination: Aspiengirls often have advanced imaginations preferring to spend time involved in: fiction, books, fantasy worlds, fairies, unicorns, ponies, pegasus, talking to and/or having imaginary friends or imaginary animals. This may be observed at times to the extent that the child may believe they are an animal, a fairy, and so on. There may be some difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality.
My answer: Absolutely, yes. My fantasy world was deep and rich, and it permeated my life, such that it would keep going, even during school hours (what the hell; I was bored). Our entire rural property was “peppered” with entire “families” of imaginary “residents”. Each place had a name, and then the entire “community” also had its own name. It was a very active “community”, complete with a variety of “people”; some of the “families” were healthy and well-adjusted…others, not so much. But they all had a place in my world. I did indeed insist sometimes that I was a fairy or another entity, one that differed from who I actually was. Sometimes it was indeed extremely difficult to pull out of that fantasy world.
13 – Writing: Aspiengirls are often interested in writing and write their own stories on sticky notes, journals, fiction at an early age.
My answer: This probably won’t surprise anyone, but I started writing at a fairly early age. At first, I had a tough time making up stories, especially if there were set parameters on those stories (such as, it had to follow certain guidelines or specifications), such as when assigned by a teacher as a homework exercise. If I was going to write, I was going to write what I wanted, dammit. I had the most fun choosing the names of the people in those stories, but my creativity (surprisingly) at that time was lacking. Around age nine, I started to keep a journal, a tradition that continues to this day (30 years on, now). And around age 12, I began making up fictional stories. They weren’t anything to write home about for the first few years, but after that, the quality improved.
Speaking of writing… Although Tania’s list consists of 40 items, I can see this post getting extremely long, so I’ll break it up into (three? Four?) separate posts 🙂