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Before
In the classroom
Outside the classroom

Neurodivergent traits in girls at mainstream school

It helps neurodivergent young people if you try to understand their world at school better. 

Below is a list of some common characteristics that parents or school staff might notice. Everyone is different, so they won’t all apply, but you might find that several are familiar. 

These traits may fit with all sorts of neurodivergence, including autism, ADHD, language disorder, social communication disorder etc, or a combination of these. Some traits may be caused by other things too.

 

Before and after school

  • Difficulty going in to school because of anxiety due to needs not being met

  • Overwhelmed by the effort of masking at school. Meltdowns or shutdowns seen at home after school to let off tension

  • May get by in primary school but moving to secondary school becomes overwhelming 

  • Appears frequently tired and needing down-time when after school


 

In the classroom

  • Reported by teaching staff to show ‘good behaviour’ and to be ‘managing ok’. She often doesn’t ‘cause trouble’ or attract much attention

  • Likes specific, literal instructions

  • Perfectionist – hates getting things wrong but struggles to understand what’s expected

  • May be academically able

  • Dislikes group work - finds groups easier when they include her close friend. Usually prefers working on her own so she has autonomy and control. 

  • Bothered by mistakes - will correct teacher and parents/carers; strong desire to be right

  • Gets bored waiting for teachers to explain topics to others that they’ve already grasped

  • May doodle, fiddle, fidget, not look at teacher or appear to daydream because it helps her focus and listen

  • Annoyed and distracted by unrealistic scenarios in hypothetical problems – eg 'John has 143 apples'

  • Finds transitions in the day (eg between classrooms) difficult 

  • Finds sudden changes to usual routine or timetable difficult – eg around Christmas, beginning and end of term, transition to secondary school

  • May find it easier to chat to teachers or other adults that she likes, than to her peers.

  • Finds it hard to understand social hierarchy 

  • Finds it very difficult to focus on subjects or tasks that she does not like or find interesting

  • Finds it difficult to ask for help or to express any needs in the classroom, eg:

    • May use compensation techniques to disguise difficulties from teachers 

    • May be unable to use strategies like 'time out' cards because of anxiety

  • Unwilling to do homework unless she understands the reason for it

  • May not raise a hand in class or be reluctant to speak when called on. 

  • May experience less difficulty and anxiety if seated with a friend, and if the seating doesn’t change.

 

Outside the classroom

  • Dislikes PE because of lack of structure/discipline, confusing rules, and sensory, hypermobility or coordination issues

  • May be uncomfortable with unstructured time at school and need support for these times more than lessons

  • Can find lunchtimes difficult, eg:

    • ​Slow eater

    • Food has to be eaten in a specific way or specific order

    • School lunch is different from home

    • Cutlery is different from home and harder to use

    • Other children are distracting

    • Other children finish faster and she wants to go out to play with them instead of eating alone

    • School policies around what and how much lunch has to be eaten by pupils

 

 

Friendships

  • May prefer her own company

  • Can look to a casual observer that she’s playing in a natural way, but in reality may be mimicking her peers' behaviour consciously to fit in

  • Focuses on one particular friend and finds it difficult to share them with others

  • Can be on the edge of friendship groups or have intense friendships which are vulnerable to falling out

  • Very uncomfortable with conflict

  • Finds playtime difficult because of lack of structure and unpredictability

  • Finds it difficult to choose between different friends to play with – very worried about hurting others' feelings. Can overlook her own wants and needs to appease others.

  • Likes leading games and finds it difficult to play according to someone else’s rules, or to change the game suddenly

  • Can appear to be quite passive because that seems like safer ground, socially

  • Isolated and sometimes bullied for being ‘different’ or not playing in the ‘expected’ way

  • Often very compliant and wants to 'please' peers, but confused by social norms. Can be manipulated by others to do extreme things in order to be socially 'accepted'

  • Doesn’t like others breaking the rules, and will police other children if they are. The concept of ‘telling tales’ is confusing 

 

Sensory

  • Finds aspects of school uniform (or other clothes) difficult or impossible

  • Can be distressing to eat in the dinner hall due to the sensory aspect of smell and so many people 

  • Finds assemblies difficult due to proximity of so many people

  • Startled and scared by teachers suddenly raising voice

  • Finds noise of busy classroom overwhelming 

What next?

> Read, print and share with other professionals:

  • The traits of neurodivergent girls at home

  • Why doing nothing now causes harm: web / video 

  • What to look for: neurodivergence in health appointments: web PDF

  • 3 ways you can help:  web / PDF

 

-> More background reading:

-> Share the NeonDaisy families site here with parents and carers

 

Please note, this list is not for making a diagnosis. It is not intended to represent the experiences of all neurodivergent girls and young people. 

Friendships
Sensory
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