A new study just published in the journal Autism Research challenges commonly held beliefs about how autism affects females.
The research, which comes out of the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at the Children's National Health System, finds that girls with autism are more likely to have challenges with real-world planning, organization, and other daily living skills than boys. After looking at parent-reported data, researchers determined that real-world tasks like making and sticking to a plan, getting dressed, and chatting with people in everyday situations can be more difficult for girls and women with the spectrum disorder than their male counterparts.
"When parents were asked to rate a child's day-to-day functioning, it turns out that girls were struggling more with these independence skills," said psychologist and study author Allison Ratto, Ph.D. She added of the 7- to 18-year-olds they looked at: "This was surprising because in general, girls with ASD have better social and communication skills during direct assessments. The natural assumption would be that those communication and social skills would assist them to function more effectively in the world, but we found that this isn't always the case."
The reality is that researchers are just beginning to understand more about how autism specifically affects girls versus boys. Studies have traditionally focused on males because the ratio of boys with ASD to girls is three to one, according to Science Daily. "Our understanding of autism is overwhelmingly based on males, similar to the situation faced by the medical community once confronted with heart disease research being predominantly male," senior study author Lauren Kenworthy, Ph.D., commented.
She adds, "This study highlights that some common assumptions about the severity of challenges faced by girls with ASD may be wrong, and we may need to spend more time building the adaptive and executive function skills of these females if we want to help them thrive."
The hope is that this study and others can help all people, male and female, with autism to get the help they need to live full lives.