A new study has revealed that girls diagnosed with autism and boys diagnosed with autism show different behavioral patterns. Researchers say that the well known restrictive and repetitive behaviors that experts typically associate with autism are a lot more representative for boys than they are for girls.
Kaustubh Supekar, the study’s lead author and postdoctoral researcher over at the Stanford University School of Medicine (California), offered a statement explaining that the discovery he and his team made “suggest a potential factor that may contribute to the relatively low proportion of females with autism”.
It’s a realization that’s bound to change how field experts identify potential patients as they currently rely heavily on restrictive and repetitive behaviors to diagnose children of both sexes. The most common ones are the tendency to adhere strictly to a certain routine, adopting a single-minded attitude, developing an unmovable focus on a certain area of interest, and using repetitive motions.
The lead author stressed that the new discovery points at the possibility that autistic girls who show restrictive and repetitive behaviors that are less prominent “may miss being tested for autism or get misclassified as social communication disorder”.
As for the boys, those who show restrictive and repetitive behaviors that are more pronounced “may show more false positives for autism spectrum disorders”. This happens because, while frequent in autism, these behaviors are still “not specific to children with autism and are also observed in other neurodevelopmental disorders”.
The researchers conducted two (2) tests to get to these conclusions. They first took a look at 614 autistic boys and 128 autistic girls, all with the age between 7 and 13, all with an IQ higher than 70, and compared their symptoms.
For the second test, they browsed through an MRI database and looked at the brain scans of children who had been diagnosed with autism, as well as the brain scans of children who were developing normally. They eventually compared the brain scan results of 25 autistic boys, 25 autistic girls, 19 normally developing boys, and 19 typically developing girls. All of them were the same age and had very similar IQ ranges.
Both tests revealed that autistic girls generally have less severe restrictive and repetitive behaviors, especially when compared to autistic boys.
One thing that the team found in both sexes was social and communication difficulties. These were pretty much the same for both boys and girls.
On top of everything, the MRI brain scans also helped the researchers see that autistic boys and autistic girls show differences in their brains. The area linked to movement is different in the two sexes, and other parts of their brains revealed differences in gray matter.
But Supekar and his team saw no such differences in the brains of the normally developing boys and girls.
The researchers hope that their findings will lead to the development of better treatments, and Mayra Mendez, field expert from the Family Development Center and the Providence Saint John’s Child, already has an idea of what that might look like.
She offered a statement of her own saying that treatments designed for autistic girls should concentrate on helping them form social and communication skills, whereas treatments designed for autistic boys should concentrate on helping them manage the restrictive and repetitive behaviors.
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