Monday, April 9th, 2012
Peter Szatmari, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, has written a piece for CNN.com calling for more investigation of the stark gender divide in the rate of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The Centers for Disease Control recently reported that ASD is nearly 5 times as common among boys as girls. Szatmari, who has more than 30 years of experience with autism, writes:
Something seems to protect girls from developing ASD and other developmental disorders. That “something” could be hormone levels in utero, epigenetic factors that turn autism susceptibility genes “on” and “off” during development, or the fact that young girls have in general better social skills than boys and so need a bigger “dose” of what causes ASD to cross that threshold to being impaired. It is also possible that a proportion of girls with mild autistic traits lose those traits early on and so escape detection by 8 years of age (the age of the children in the CDC study).
He goes on to suggest that some high-functioning girls may actually be missing diagnoses because their ASD social behaviors can be attributed to shyness or anxiety:
Often, the symptoms of ASD appear as extreme shyness or anxiety in girls, masking that they may not be responsive to the social cues of others. And while fixated interests are common in both sexes on the autism spectrum, girls tend to focus on topics such as on ponies, princesses, dolls or drawings — common passions for non-autistic girls, too. Boys, on the other hand, may become stuck on less typical activities, such as lining up blocks or running sand through their fingers. As a result, doctors may miss that some of their female patients show signs of autism.
Better understanding of the gender differences in ASD will lead to more effective early interventions for girls, Szatmari says.
Image: Shy girl, via Shutterstock.
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Tuesday, October 18th, 2011
About half of all teenagers in the United States qualify a “shy,” a new study published in the journal Pediatrics has found. But only 12 percent of those shy teens meet the criteria for full-fledged, lifelong social anxiety or social phobia. Researchers hope the findings will help de-stigmatize shyness and defray accusations that calling someone “shy” suggests that they have emotional health problems. The Associated Press reports:
“Shyness is a normal human temperament,” says lead researcher Dr. Kathleen Merikangas of the National Institute of Mental Health, whose teachers always noted her own childhood shyness on her report cards.
But just as it can be hard to tell when feeling sad turns into depression, “there is a blurred boundary between people who describe themselves as shy and clinically significant impairment,” Merikangas adds.
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The difference: The shy can be drawn out and adapt, while teens or adults with full-fledged social anxiety become so paralyzed during social situations that it interferes with everyday functioning.
Shyness also tends to be seen differently across gender lines, research shows:
In school-age boys especially, “shyness isn’t very well tolerated in the United States,” says [Children's Hospital Boston's Dr. Nancy] Snidman, who wasn’t involved with the new research.
Snidman and colleagues at Harvard Medical School have tracked infants to their college years, and know that babies who react very negatively to new people and objects tend to grow into shy children. That’s not a bad thing — caution is considered an important evolutionary adaptation.
Usually, the clinging tot does just fine as he or she grows older and finds a niche, Snidman says. Girls may think the shy teen boy is nice because he’s not macho, for example, or the shy kids wind up on the school newspaper so they can write instead of do public speaking. Many outgrow their shyness.
Yet a very shy child is considered more at risk than others of later developing some type of anxiety disorder — just as the opposite extreme, a very outgoing child, can be at greater risk for attention or conduct disorders, she says.
(image via: http://ruelmiralles-myblogmylife.blogspot.com/)