Autism is a serious disorder that has been affecting both boys and girls. Although the belief was that the ratio of female and male children that fall somewhere on the autism spectrum is pretty much the same, the recent studies show that the truth is actually different. As our understanding of this disease grows, it becomes more obvious that things are much more complicated than we once thought.
After conducting a thorough analysis, the results show that 1 in 62 boys is diagnosed with ASD while that number is significantly lower when it comes to girls. For every 4 boys on the autism spectrum, you will get only 1 girl with the same problem.
Let’s see what the researchers have found and why there is such a difference in ratio between sexes.
What is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder or ASD encompasses numerous conditions, including repetitive behaviors, problems with speech and nonverbal communication as well as challenges with social skills. However, given the fact that not every person is affected in the same way, some of them will be able to live their life completely independently, others need support with everyday things and can’t be left without supervision.
Medical professionals have found out that the first signs of autism usually appear around ages 2 and 3 but it can be detected even earlier. The sooner it is detected, there is a good possibility the person affected will have a greater chance to live in a more autonomous matter. Still, adjustment for many will not be easy. After all, they are facing multiple medical and mental problems such as seizures, ADHD, and anxiety.
Differences Between Boys and Girls
With more and more studies showing that autism is more prevalent in boys, medical professionals tried to find out why this is happening. One of the main reasons often appearing as an answer for this ratio is the fact that girls are being diagnosed much later in life, or they don’t get diagnosed at all. This indicates also that it is much harder to identify in females.
These are some of the things that researches have been able to identify when comparing the two sexes:
One of the main differences is in the behavior of boys and girls. Simply put, boys have tendencies to have very repetitive and restricted behaviors which are perhaps the most widely recognized features of autism. Repetitive motions such as hand-flapping, preoccupation with a narrow interest, and inflexibility about routines are often telltale signs that something is not right.
On the other hand, girls are not so unresponsive as boys when it comes to non-verbal communication. They have also shown a greater ability to focus and are less prone to distractions. This means that things such as gaze following or pointing are not uncommon for girls as they are for boys.
However, girls are more prone to depression and anxiety. Also, autism in girls is frequently displayed in passive and withdrawn behavior while boys are more aggressive. Even the reasons behind their disruptive actions are different – male kids are doing it to gain a certain object while females are likely to act this way to get attention.
What very often leads to missing the signs in young women has to do with what their interests are. Simply put, they are focusing on things that are more typical for humans at their age like music or TV stars while males are showing interest in statistics or transportation, among other things. As such, females are going to appear as they don’t have problems connecting with others and that their social skills are adequate. They rarely have problems communicating with their peers as kids but can start experiencing issues once they enter early adolescence.
Differences in Brain Structure
Due to these behavioral differences, the scientist decided to take a look at the brain of kids with autism. What they were able to observe are dissimilarities in the motor cortex, supplementary motor area, and a portion of the cerebellum. These areas are responsible for motor functions as well as for planning motor activity. However, they were also able to notice that there are differences in brain structure for boys and girls with autism which are controlling repetitive behavior.
Vinod Menon, who holds the Rachael L. and Walter F. Nichols, MD, Professorship, said:
“Girls and boys with autism differ in their clinical and neurobiological characteristics, and their brains are patterned in ways that contribute differently to behavioral impairments. Autism has primarily been studied from the viewpoint of boys with the disorder. Understanding gender differences can help in identifying the behavioral skills that are most important to remediate in girls vis-à-vis boys.”
Postdoctoral scholar Supekar, Ph.D., says: “The discovery of gender differences in both behavioral and brain measures suggests that clinicians may want to focus diagnosis and treatments for autistic girls differently than boys.”
What are the Common Characteristics of Autism in Girls?
Don’t forget that autism is manifested differently in every child. However, there are some characteristics that are typical for girls with this disease. We have already mentioned that they usually show interest in things like music and that can extend to art, literature, animals, etc. They also have strong imagination as well as the desire to arrange objects and are very into organizing.
Also, they will be able to blend in with others as they have tendencies of mimicking the behavior of others. However, even though they are often perceived as socially capable, they are also those that want to dictate the rules of play when spending time with peers and if that’s not possible, they would prefer to play alone. Their emotions are usually in check when in school or outside, but they are not strangers to meltdowns when at home. Strong sensory reactions are also possible, especially if it comes to sounds and touch.
Intensive scientific research happening in the field of autism has shown that there is a big difference between how this disease manifests and in what life stage it is discovered in boys and girls. However, this provides doctors with more knowledge and a better approach to how to treat autism in kids.