A recent study suggests that many girls with autism often remain undiagnosed because they display less obvious symptoms of the disease than boys do.
For instance, autistic girls do not show the blatant repetitive and restrictive behavior autistic boys do, although they experience the same levels of emotional and communication impairment as their male counterparts.
Moreover, the differences do not stop here. Male and female ASD patients also display differences in their brains which researchers often overlooked when they tried to diagnose autism.
“Our findings suggest a potential factor that may contribute to the relatively low proportion of females with autism,”
reported Dr. Kaustubh Supekar, senior researcher of the study and behavioral expert at Stanford University’s medical school in California.
Supekar explained that doctors and educators often take repetitive and restrictive behavior in children for a certain symptom of autism. The behavior includes repetitive movements, a preference for routine, and unusual interest for a particular field or object.
Nevertheless, these are behaviors that are specific to boys. Many autistic girls do not display them, so they are often not tested for ASD or flagged as just having a communication disorder.
Additionally, not all repetitive and restrictive behavioral patterns are a sign of autism. Many other neurological illnesses may trigger such symptoms.
The study involved 128 girls and 614 boys diagnosed with ASD with the median age of 10 and an above-70 IQ. In a first phase, researchers compared symptoms and MRI brain scans of autistic girls and boys. Later, they compared the data of the autistic group with data of a healthy group.
Both phases of the study revealed that autistic girls were harder to detect than boys were because of their different behavior. But emotional and communication difficulties were the same for both sexes, the research revealed.
The MRI scans also showed that the brains of autistic girls and boys were affected differently by the disorder. The differences were detected in the affected regions of the brain and grey matter composition. No such differences surfaced in healthy kids.
Researchers drew the conclusion that the organic difference between sexes were linked to the different way autistic patients displayed behavioral impairments depending on their sex.
The findings may not only help doctors detect autism in female patients, but they may also help physicians develop better treatment courses for girls rather than giving them a one-size-fits-all approach.
The study was published Thursday in the journal Molecular Autism.
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