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Autism Study Shows Disorder Manifests Differently In Boys And Girls

A new study conducted by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine has produced evidence that girls and boys who are diagnosed with autism behave in different ways. Furthermore, it was found that these differences can be linked directly to contrasts brain structure between the sexes.

According to a report from Medical Daily, three times more boys than girls are diagnosed with high-functioning autism. This imbalance has remained a mystery for some time, and researchers have begun to suspect that girls with autism may display the disorder in less severe ways than their male counterparts. Autism has three major symptoms which characterize it. These are social impairments, communication difficulties and repetitive or restricted behaviors.

In order to compile data for their study, the team of researchers went to the National Database for Autism Research, searching for information on subjects who were between the ages of seven and thirteen years old, had phenotype ASD and and IQ higher than 70. Their search returned 614 boys and just 128 girls. Upon examining the data on each of the subjects, the team found that while both sexes show low scores for social and communication behaviors, yet girls had scores which were closer to average in the area or repetitive and restricted behaviors.

This data was made more concrete after the researchers turned to the Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange, looking for data on subjects within the ages of seven and thirteen, with an IQ greater than 70 and specifically those who had structural MRIs on file. They found 25 girls with autism, 25 boys with autism, 19 typically developing girls and 19 typically developing boys.

Understanding gender differences can help in identifying the behavioral skills that are most important to remediate in girls vis-a-vis boys.

This data showed again that girls and boys had similar social and communication skills, while boys had more severe repetitive and restrictive behavior. Once the researchers analyzed the scans from typically developing children of both sexes, they found that there were differences in the brain structures of boys and girls, “in the right postcentral gyrus, left parahippocampus, right lateral occipital cortex, right putamen and bilateral cerebellum.” The same differences existed in the brain scans of boys and girls with autism.

This information compares the fear of many scientists that girls who are suffering from autism are being underdiagnosed, resulting in their lack of access to treatment, says a report from Daily Mail. Vinod Menon, who is the senior author of the study, believes that this is a result of Autism having “primarily been studied from the viewpoint of boys with the disorder.” Menon goes on to state that this data will be crucial in focusing treatment for girls and women diagnosed with Autism in future.

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