Healthy Living

Do the Symptoms of Autism Differ Between Boys and Girls?

Do the Symptoms of Autism Differ Between Boys and Girls?

Key Takeaways

  • Autism is more prevalent in boys than in girls, though the ratio is uncertain. 
  • There are often differences in symptoms between autistic boys and girls.
  • These symptoms are now believed to be the result of brain variations between the genders in children with autism, as concluded by a recent study.

What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD, or simply ‘autism’, is a condition characterized by communication challenges, social-interaction difficulties, sensory sensitivities, and restricted or repetitive behavior. Restricted and repetitive behaviors are the most common of these symptoms of autism. Autism has always been a mysterious disorder for researchers, and it causes even more confusion when gender differences are contemplated.

According to the study the scientists have concluded that :

The girls and boys with autism display different symptoms. Girls show less repetitive and highly restricted behavior when compared with the boys.  The difference in behavior is because of the different brain structure of boys and girls.

Autism facts

Does Gender Affect Autism?

Statistics show that more boys than girls have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. A number of studies and informal evidence have come up with affected boy/girl ratios of anywhere from 2:1 to 16:1. Here are some examples of studies on this subject:

  • In 1943, a study performed by Leo Kanner showed that the ratio of an autism diagnosis was 4:1 (Boys:Girls).
  • In 1993, Ehlers and Gillberg’s study of Asperger's syndrome (a disorder on the autism spectrum) in mainstream schools in Sweden also concluded a ratio of 4:1.
  • A report from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2007 showed that a diagnosis of autism was given to 1.8% of the surveyed men and boys, but only to 0.2% of the surveyed women and girls.
  • In 2009, the research survey conducted by Brugha on the Adults Living in the Households throughout England revealed that of the total count surveyed individuals, 1.8% boys and men were diagnosed with the symptoms of autism as compared with the girls and women who made a share of 0.2%.
  • In 2015, the ratio of boys to girls who used NAS school services was approximately 5:1, and in those that used NAS adult services a ratio of approximately 3:1.
  • According to Lorna Wing’s paper on sex ratios in early childhood autism and related conditions, the ratio of men and boys to women and girls with Asperger's syndrome or high-functioning autism was 15:1. Of those with both learning difficulties and autism, there were 4 times more men and boys than women and girls.

All the above findings point toward the fact that girls and women have less chances of developing autism, but when the symptoms appear in them, they are more severely impaired. On the other hand, it also suggests the case of underdiagnosis in ‘high-functioning’ females with autism as compared with the male fraction. This high-functioning type of autism or ASD is referred to as ‘Asperger Syndrome’ (also, 'Asperger's Syndrome').

Study of both genders

According to the study by a team at Stanford University School of Medicine:

It is found that most of girls and boys diagnosed with autism behave differently. Both the brain-structures explain the discrepancy between the two sexes.

Girls always show less repetitive and restricted behavior than boys, according to a study by a team at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Experts believe the findings represent the best evidence to date that boys and girls display the developmental disorder differently.

The new study has revealed the differences in the brains of girls and boys and it explains –

Why males and females diagnosed with autism display different behaviors. According to the Stanford University researchers, girls display less repetitive and restricted behavior than boys

According to the experts and the professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, it was needed to find which specific clinical manifestations of autism display major gender differences, and if the patterns in the brain can explain behavioral differences between the two genders.

The understanding of the differences can easily help clinicians in treating the autism in both sexes successfully. The understanding is one highly crucial and clinical too.

According to the study of both the genders, the strong evidence is found which proves the gender differences in autism. Researchers have used two large, public databases while studying the gender based properties. The study was conducted among 850 children with high-functioning forms of autism. Repetitive and restricted behavior is considered to be the most widely used and which is based on the three core features of autism.

The study is mainly based on the number of ways, which includes a child's obsession with a narrow interest and also child’s inflexibility about everyday activities and the recurring motions which can become part of hand-flapping.

The many features of autism are mainly relating to the interior working and are relating to social and communications deficits.

Does Autism Appear Differently for Different Genders?

The diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder are the same for everyone, regardless of gender. However, more recent studies show that autism may present differently in boys and girls. Based on these particular studies, here are a few notable differences in symptoms between boys and girls with autism:

•    Girls with autism are more likely to have the ability to understand and respond to non-verbal communication (for example, body positioning) by turning slightly away, pointing themselves a specific way, or following others' gaze.

•    Boys with autism are more likely to behave aggressively.

•    Boys with autism are often very repetitive and have limited areas of play. On the other hand, girls with autism tend to have less need for repetition and are able to extend their areas of play.

•    Girls with autism are less likely to become distracted, and they focus more easily than boys with autism.

•    Girls tend to be more passive or withdrawn.

•    While boys with autism may tend to behave disruptively to get physical objects, girls tend to behave disruptively to gain attention.

•    In the early stages of their lives, social communication and interaction issues become very challenging for boys with autism. In the case of autistic girls, they are more likely to maintain social communication at a young age, but face difficulties in early teenage years.

•    Boys with autism are less likely to have anxiety and depression.

•    Girls with ASD may have interests in objective things like music or celebrities, while boys are more likely to be more interested in quantifiable things such as timetables, statistics, computers, or transportation.

In the girls with ASD, perseverative interests (repetition of a particular response or to repeat any gesture, phrase, etc., redundantly) have been analysed. Hence, they appear more typical in their choice of interest; for instance, they find interest in TV stars, movies, or music. Alternatively, the boys or men select statistics, sports, schedules, or transportation as their perseverative interests.

What is the Reason Behind the Differences in Behavior?

According to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine, a difference in the brains of boys and girls with ASD helps to explain why they display different behaviors. The findings were published online in the journal Molecular Autism on September 3rd, 2015. The researchers separated their study into two different sections. First, they compared the symptoms of 614 boys with ASD to 128 girls with ASD. The participants' ages ranged from 7 to 13, and they all had IQ numbers of greater than 70.

In the next step, the researchers checked a directory of MRI brain scan results from both autistic and non-autistic children that was publicly available and contained background information on the symptoms of the autistic children. The investigators then compared the data for 25 boys and 25 girls with autism. They also compared the findings for 19 developing boys and 19 typically developing girls. All of these children were in the same age and IQ range. Both analyses showed that boys with autism are more likely to have severe repetitive behaviors than girls. However, communication and social interaction issues appeared to be similar for both boys and girls.

In the investigation of the MRI findings, researchers noticed slight differences in certain parts (including those related to movement) of the brain between boys and girls with ASD. They also saw differences in the amount of gray matter in certain sectors of the brain between boys and girls with autism that may be responsible for the disparity in repetitive behaviors. The brain structures of the non-autistic boys and girls were nearly identical, therefore showing that there is a scientific reason behind gender differences in autistic children.

Close diagnosis of Autism

According to close diagnosis where the children are diagnosed with the high-functioning forms of autism and it is found that the boys outnumbered girls by four to one.

The study conducted by the scientists compelled to evaluate the expression of core characters of the disorder between the two sexes. It was girls who were suspected with autism. The girls are suspected from a longer time but they show the symptoms differently. The scientists fear about the girls who are having the disorders and are suffering are needed to be tested by offering best of facilities and the treatments. For the girls who remain under diagnosed are also needed better features and excellent treatment.

The stronger evidence between gender differences is found which was expected but yet it surprised everyone completely. According to the study the Autism has primarily been studied from different viewpoints of boys with the disorder.

The gender difference helps in understanding the differences between the can help in identifying the behavioral skills which are most important to re-mediate in girls and boys.

The researchers did the experiment and examined the severity of autism symptoms in 130 girls and in 630 boys all the girls and boys have registered themselves in the National Database for Autism Research.

Most of the children are in the age-group of 7 years to 13 years and children ranged in the age from seven to 13 years and having IQ scores above 70. The evaluation is made as per the tests and the autistic behavior.  Most of the girls and boys have matched their age and also for the IQ. The girls and boys have similar scores in the social behavior and also in the communication field.

But girls have lower or normal scores which has the standard measurement which offer repetitive and restricted behaviors. It also helps in understanding the behavior differences between both of girls and boys.

Differences in the brain structure

The team of scientists also examined data from the Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange. It also included MRI scans of 25 boys and girls having specified with the condition. It also has set of 19 boys and 19 girls without specifying any condition.

The brain scan has revealed a set of gender differences in the brain structure.  It understands the differences between boys and girls with autism.  According to parts of the brain which is responsible for motor functions and having symptoms of autism which includes hand-flapping are thought to have a motor component

The results found that girls and boys have similar skills in the area of social behavior and also in the area of communication skills. But the main difference which was found during the comparison and study that the girls have less-severe repetitive and restricted behaviors.

The several gender differences can be revealed during the brain scan. It also revealed many gender differences of the brain structure of the boys and the girls and the understanding the development of both the genders.

During the scan, the children with autism and the dissimilar set of gender differences shows the parts of brain which has affected the motor function. The hand flapping behavior is one which is mainly dependent on many motor components.

Clinical and neurological characteristics

Experts talks about the differences between girls and boys with autism and can be completely differ in the clinical and neurological characteristics. The brains work different using different patterns while dealing with different behavioral impairments. The discovery of the differences between the gender behaviors is mainly focused mainly for the treatment of autistic girls than boys.

This is a highly useful addition to the evidence.  The autism is different for girls and women than it is for boys and men. This development helps in understanding the girls and the boys and the gender difference. It certainly helps in understanding the behavioral differences between the girls or women and boys or men. The study shows about girls and boys, though both genders work closely but yet think differently because of the differences in the brain structures.