Much of the research about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) focuses on boys. However, a new study from Stanford University investigated the differences in how ASD manifests in boys and girls. The research demonstrates that girls with ASD have less restricted and repetitive behavior than boys, although boys and girls had similar levels of social behavior and communication symptoms. The results could help clinicians identify more girls with ASD.
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from two databases: the National Database for Autism Research (NDAR) and the Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange (ABIDE). They analyzed symptom severity in girls and boys aged 7 to 13 who were registered in the NDAR, evaluating age-matched and IQ-matched boys and girls. This analysis demonstrated that boys and girls did not differ on measurements of social behavior and communication. The analysis also revealed that girls have less severe repetitive and restricted behaviors than boys.
The data from ABIDE included brain imaging from boys and girls, both with ASD and typically developing. This analysis confirmed what the researchers found from their analysis of the NDAR data: boys and girls do not have differences in social behavior and communication, but girls have less severe repetitive and restricted behaviors.
The researchers also found differences in grey matter patterns between boys and girls with ASD, which were not the same as the differences between typically developing boys and girls. In particular, the motor cortex and the cerebellum—regions that govern motor function and planning motor activity—were different enough to distinguish the brains of boys and girls with ASD.
“Girls and boys with autism differ in their clinical and neurobiological characteristics, and their brains are patterned in ways that contribute differently to behavioral impairments,” states senior study author Vinod Menon, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.
The findings suggest that clinicians may need to focus on different issues when treating girls on the autism spectrum. The study could also impact the identification of ASD in girls.
This research is published in the journal Molecular Autism.
Previous news in autism: