Parenting

Autism is Different in Girls

Because boys are more often diagnosed with autism than girls, less is known about how the disorder affects females. But according to a recent study in the UK by the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge there is a gender difference.

The MRI-based study looked at the brain scans of 120 men and women, with half of those studied having autism and found that the brains of females with autism "look" more like—but still not the same as—healthy males, when compared with healthy females.

But the same kind of difference was not seen in males with autism—so their brains did not show "extreme" male characteristics. Dr Meng-Chuan Lai, who worked on the study said: "What we have known about autism to date is mainly male-biased."

"This research shows that it is possible that the effect of autism manifests differently according to one's gender.

"Therefore we should not blindly assume that everything found for males or from male-predominant mixed samples will apply to females."

He said future research may need to look at males and females equally to discover both similarities and differences.

Dr Lai added: "Lastly, there really needs to be more research and clinical attention toward females 'on the spectrum'."

Carol Povey, Director of The National Autistic Society's Centre for Autism, said:  "Girls can be more adaptive than boys and can develop strategies that often mask what we traditionally think of as the signs of autism.

"This "masking" can lead to a great deal of stress, and many girls go on to develop secondary problems such as anxiety, eating disorders or depression.

"It's important that we build on this study and more research is conducted into the way autism manifests in girls and women, so that we can ensure that gender does not remain a barrier to diagnosis and getting the right support."


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