Autism symptoms among girls and boys diagnosed with the developmental disorder tend to differ significantly, a study has revealed.
According to researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine, girls suffering from autism don’t exhibit restrictive or repetitive behaviors as often or as obviously as their male counterparts.
The study, published on September 3 in the “Molecular Autism” journal, analyzed autistic children (128 girls and 618 boys) between 7 and 13 years old, with an average IQ of over 70.
Results showed that there are prominent differences related to the behavior of each gender, which may be explained when taking into account their brain differences. Overall, the imbalance consists in girls exhibiting other impairments than boys, which suggests physicians should re-evaluate the way they diagnose this disorder.
Findings indicate there’s a lower likelihood for girls to display repetitive or restrictive behaviors. Such symptoms are usually so overt and noticeable that they are considered one of the most reliable ways of diagnosing autism, aside from other signs such as communication issues and social impairment.
As a result of scoring closer to the normal range, some autistic girls may fail to be identified as being affected by this condition or they may be classified incorrectly as suffering from other communication disorders. Therefore, they may not receive appropriate treatment and remain undiagnosed.
The added danger is also that “boys with more pronounced repetitive and restrictive behaviors may show more false positives for autism spectrum disorders”, explains Kaustubh Supekar, postdoctoral research at Stanford and the study’s lead author.
Although these repetitive behavioral patterns are more common among boys, other issues such as communication difficulties and social disconnection tend to be just as prevalent among both genders.
There are also gender differences in the brain structure of autistic children, which were evidenced by MRI scans. Scientists examined data from the Autism Brain Imagining Data Exchange, consisting of scans for 25 boys and 25 girls suffering from autism, as well as brain imaging of 19 boys and 19 girls without the condition.
Results confirmed that certain cortex regions, including those involved in motor function, are dissimilar, depending on the sex of the autistic patient. In boys and girls who are not affected by autism no such dissimilarities were identified.
Based on the study data, researchers have concluded that therapy for autism could be personalized depending on gender.
Treatment directed at girls could focus on improving behavioral skills that enhance communication and social interaction, while autistic boys could benefit from motor and sensory-based activities, with a view to reduce their repetitive routines.
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