Autism Looks Different in Boys and Girls, New Study Finds

A new study in Molecular Autism tackles the question of whether or not there are quantifiable differences in repetitive and restrictive behaviors between boys and girls with ASD. 

Autism research continues to look for genetic and neurological clues, and with each new bit of research done, our understanding of the how's and why's of the disorder grows.

new study out of Stanford College of Medicine and published in Molecular Autism this month tackles the question of whether or not there are quantifiable differences in repetitive and restrictive behaviors between boys and girls, and if these could be traced back to variations in their brains. Since other studies have observed the different neurology that accompanies ASD, I wasn't surprised to learn that the researchers found differences between the brains of boys and girls with autism. I was a bit surprised, however, to see that in their small sample group they observed that many of the restrictive and repetitive behaviors—rocking, stimming, and other signs of "classic" autism—seem to appear more often in boys than girls.

Among the kids with autism I know, all of them have some sort of repetitive behavior—from twisting strings to repeating scripts—that help them find their calm, manage sensory input, and move through the world. Perhaps not all of the kids have such arms-flapping, happy-spinning, woodchip-stacking moments as my own son, a non-verbal 7-year-old with autism, but all of them have something.

While the medical community's reaction to this study appears mixed in terms of treatment implications, they do agree that it may offer clues into why fewer girls are diagnosed with autism. Since the girls don't look as obviously, stereotypically autistic as their male counterparts, they're not getting diagnosed as often. While more work remains to be done, it's my hope that each new study that comes out will not only tell us how autism works, it will also help us better understand how to raise the quality of life for kids and adults with autism and add to the overall culture of autism acceptance.

Jamie Pacton lives near Portland where she drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons. Find her at www.jamiepacton.comFacebook (Jamie Pacton), and Twitter @jamiepacton

This video from the Kennedy Krieger Institute, in Baltimore, features three children who show early signs of autism spectrum disorder playing with toys and interacting and communicating with others. It compares the footage on each of these children to that of typical children in the same situations. “It helps parents to articulate to their pediatrician any behaviors that concern them,” says Rebecca Landa, Ph.D., director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders.


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