Girls and Autism: A New Study Confirms Differences in Brains
Autism occurs in 1 out of every 68 children. Boys are more likely to have the disorder (the CDC notes that 1 in 42 boys have autism versus 1 in 189 girls), but a study out of the UC Davis MIND Institute (published in Molecular Autism this month) found that there are clear differences in the brains of boys and girls with autism—and it suggests that girls may be hit harder with social and behavioral traits when compared to their typically developing peers.
That's the key difference here—this study's not saying that girls with autism are more impaired than boys with autism (in fact the reverse is often true, and I find this borne out in all the children I know)—but it's taking a new tact by comparing these girls with their neurotypical peers. The UC Davis study examined the corpus callosums of pre-school aged boys and girls with and without autism over the course of two years. The researchers found clear evidence of "differences for males and females with ASD" in at least four parts of the brain, especially when compared to peers.
This study adds to ongoing research about the connections between neurology, autism, and genetics, and it also raises questions about how gender expectations influence perceptions of ASD. As Christine Wu Nordahl, the study's author said: "We can't just treat boys and girls with autism the same."
Girls with autism tend to be diagnosed later than boys, as the website "Girls with Autism" notes, and they "often present with a unique set of characteristics that can make diagnosing their autism difficult. Furthermore, their set of strengths can mask their deficits."
There are many resources to help with parenting girls with autism, including the book Parenting Girls on the Autism Spectrum: Overcoming the Challenges and Celebrating the Gifts and the Facebook group "Parenting Girls on the Autism Spectrum."
Jamie Pacton lives near Lake Michigan where she drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons, Liam and Eliot. Find her at www.jamiepacton.com, Facebook (Jamie Pacton), and Twitter @jamiepacton
Image: Girl using a tablet pc sitting on the floor against autism awareness heart via Shutterstock