A problem shared…GP and mother-of-four Clare Bailey gives her indispensable advice: My daughter struggles to make friends
Q My daughter is in her final year of primary school and still hasn’t made friends. She is very shy and her teachers say she tends to play on her own and often tries to latch on to teachers or look at a book at breaktime. I raised concerns with my GP that she could be autistic but he wasn’t concerned.
A It’s so painful to feel your child is not fitting in and, as parents, we want to do what we can to help.
Assuming there are no major issues in her life or at home, and that she has always found making friends difficult, it is possible she’s on the autistic spectrum. Autism, often known as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition which can affect ability to communicate and interact with others. Girls are far less likely than boys to be diagnosed with autism, which means there are lots who are isolated and struggling without support.
An anonymous woman, who lives in the UK, asked for advice because her daughter hasn’t made any friends at primary school (file image)
According to the National Autistic society, this gender split is ‘a result of females being better at camouflaging their difficulties and “fitting in” with society’s expectations’.
In other words, girls on the spectrum often go under the radar as they are less likely to be disruptive. They also show fewer signs of the obsessive restricted interests than boys, such as being obsessed with train timetables or dinosaurs.
Girls seem to have a greater ability to hide their symptoms, known as ‘masking’. They appear keener than boys to ‘fit in’. By watching how others behave and copying, they try to compensate for their symptoms, for example making a real effort to keep eye contact or to smile.
Clare Bailey (pictured) told the reader her daughter might have sensory differences and be sensitive to sounds, making groups overwhelming
According to developmental psychopathologist Simon Baron-Cohen, from Cambridge University, to identify girls requires ‘getting under the surface and listening to the experiences they’re having, rather than how they present themselves to the world’.
Your daughter might have sensory differences and be sensitive to sounds, making groups overwhelming, as well as being shy, speaking quietly and avoiding eye contact. Strong sensitivities to physical touch can also be disturbing.
You might notice obsessive interests in unicorns, shells or a Disney character or find they need to organise and arrange objects in a particular way. She may find it difficult to play co-operatively or prefer to take control and dictate the rules.
Managing to hold things together and fit in at school or socially is exhausting and this can lead to meltdowns.
Exciting new research shows that when young children who showed signs of autism were given communication skills they were less likely to go on to display autistic behaviours.
A diagnosis may help you and your daughter make sense of her challenges. The earlier you seek a diagnosis, the sooner you can support her with behavioural techniques and developing her social skills. It may even enable access to funding, specialist help and resources. For more info visit ambitiousaboutautism.org.uk.
Are you drinking too much coffee?
Could coffee be contributing to your anxiety? I have seen patients suffering anxiety who turn out to be drinking 14 or more cups a day. Along with anxiety, common symptoms of too much caffeine include insomnia, rapid heart beat, restlessness, nausea, headaches and dizziness, which are similar to the symptoms of anxiety. Try cutting down to see if it makes a difference to you.
You can write to Clare at firstname.lastname@example.org or Daily Mail, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT.