Girls with autism display less repetitive and restricted behavior than boys with autism do, according to a study. Differences in the brain between boys and girls with autism may help explain these differences.
The study, which was conducted by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine, is more evidence that boys and girls appear to express autism differently. Repetitive and restricted behavior is one of the most widely recognized aspects of autism. It can show up a preoccupation with a narrow interest, inflexibility about routines, or repetitive motions such as hand-flapping. The other aspects of autism are social and communication deficits. Scientists have suspected that girls with autism may display symptoms differently, which can lead to a missed diagnosis and difficulty in getting the most appropriate treatment.
The researchers used a large database to evaluate nearly 800 children with high-functioning autism, which means they are able to function more normally than other children with autism. Among children diagnosed with the high-functioning form of autism, boys outnumber girls by four to one. The researchers examined the severity of symptoms in 128 girls and 614 boys, who ranged in age from 7 to 13. The boys and girls were matched for age, and had the same average IQ.
Girls and boys had similar scores for social behavior and communication ability. But girls had scores that were closer to normal behavior on a standard measurement of repetitive and restricted behaviors.
The researchers then examined data from the Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange that included structural magnetic resonance imaging brain scans of 25 boys with autism, 25 girls with autism, 19 normally developing boys and 19 normally developing girls. They found gender-based differences in the brain and again found that girls and boys did not differ on social behavior and communication skills, but that girls had less-severe repetitive and restricted behaviors.
The study was published in the journal Molecular Autism. You can read the study here.