Autism – It’s Different in Girls

Throughout recent years, scientists have diligently worked toward formulating explanations for autism’s lopsided gender ratio. They have found social and personal factors that often hide symptoms of ASD in females more so then men. Other research states that biological factors may actually prevent development in the first place. Francesca Happ, a cognitive neuroscientist from King’s College London, and her colleagues conducted a study in 2012 that compared autism traits and their occurrence and formal diagnosis in a sample of more than 15,000 twins. What they found was quite interesting; if boys and girls had similar levels of traits, the girls studied often needed to show more behavioral problems or significant intellectual disability to be diagnosed. The striking results suggests that many females often are less diagnosed with ASD even though they may show similar traits as their male counterparts.


Kevin Pelphrey, a leading autism researcher at Yale University’s world-renowned Child Study Center and a father to children with autism, is among a group of researchers who want to understand what biological sex and gender roles can teach us about autism. Pelphrey is leading the charge along with researchers at Harvard University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Washington to study girls and women with autism. Pelphrey says that researchers want, “every bit of clinical information we can get because we do not know what we ought to be looking for.” Throughout the study, girls will be compared with autistic boys, as well as typically developing children of both sexes using genetic testing, brain scans, and many other tests. These studies have helped Pelphrey discover that girls with autism are significantly different from other girls in how their brain analyzes social information. In fact, “they are not like boys with autism. Each girl’s brain instead looks like that of a typical boy of the same age, with reduced activity in regions normally associated with socializing.” Essentially, the brain of a girl with autism may be more like the brain of a typical boy than that of a boy with autism.


Even when women are considered “easy” to diagnose, they still face many challenges with regard to their social development. During elementary school, for example, autistic girls usually develop friendships easily, but when they advance to junior and are exposed to the world of flirting, dating and unpredictability, they hit a wall. Change is quite challenging for any child going through the leaps and valleys of puberty and early adolescence, but those with autism continually persevere and succeed into adulthood. As awareness of autism grows, women and girls are already increasingly likely to be diagnosed; this generation clearly has significant advantages over those past.


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