A new study has found that girls and boys diagnosed with autism have different behaviors. The restrictive and repetitive behaviors that are usually associated with autism are a lot more common in boys than they are in girls, and the two genders also have differences in certain areas of their brains.
Kaustubh Supekar, lead author on the study and postdoctoral researcher from Stanford University’s School of Medicine (California), gave a statement saying that the findings he and his team stumbled upon “suggest a potential factor that may contribute to the relatively low proportion of females with autism”.
Medical experts consider the above mentioned restrictive and repetitive behaviors as red flags for the condition and rely heavily on them for a diagnosis. Some of the most noticeable characteristics include strict adherence to certain routines, a single-minded, unmovable focus on a specific area of interest, and repetitive motions.
But the lead author explained that the new findings indicate the possibility that girls who have less prominent restrictive and repetitive behaviors “may miss being tested for autism or get misclassified as social communication disorder”.
As for the other side of the equation, boys who have more pronounced restrictive and repetitive behaviors “may show more false positives for autism spectrum disorders” because these behaviors “are not specific to children with autism and are also observed in other neurodevelopmental disorders”.
To reach these conclusions, the researchers first looked at 128 autistic girls and 614 autistic boys, all between the ages of 7 and 13, and all with a measured IQ of over 70.
They then browsed through a database with MRI brain scan results that were available to the public, and looked at both the brains of children with autism and without it. The database also offered extensive data of the symptoms that autistic children exhibit.
They ended up comparing the MRI scans of 25 different girls with autism, 25 different boys with autism, 19 typically developing girls, and 19 typically developing boys, all with similar IQ ranges and ages.
The results from both tests showed that the restrictive and repetitive behaviors of autistic girls were usually a lot less severe, compared to those of autistic boys. However, the social difficulties and communication difficulties were similar for both girls and boys.
The MRI scans may have offered an explanation as Supekar and his team noticed that autistic girls and autistic boys have differences in some parts of their brains. One stand out was the area related to movement, and other areas of the brain also showed a difference in gray matter.
On the other hand, the brains of girls and boys without the neurodevelopmental disorders did not show any such differences.
The researchers are hopeful that their findings will lead to the development of better, more efficient treatments for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
Mayra Mendez, field expert from the Providence Saint John’s Child as well as the Family Development Center (Santa Monica), gave a statement of her own informing that treatments meant for girls should focus on helping them develop skills for social interactions and communication, whereas treatments meant for boys should focus on helping them with their restrictive and repetitive behaviors.
The study was published earlier this week, on Thursday (September 3, 2015), in the medical journal Molecular Autism.
Image Source: pixabay.com