Only boys can be autistic.
This isn’t true.
For the best part of a century studies in to autism have predominantly focused on boys. From years of study a set of diagnostic criteria was formed. The criteria are: communication difficulties and repetitive, inflexible behaviour patterns. Those girls who were diagnosed using this set of criteria were prominently more severely affected and often had an intellectual disability as well. However, new research suggests that there are a huge section of ‘lost girls’ who have slipped through the diagnostic net.
Girls tend to be given a later diagnosis than boys, or go undiagnosed all together, it is believed this is because they display their symptoms differently. In the States there are large studies taking place to try to build a diagnostic criteria for girls. One such study is being carried out by Kevin Pephrey, Harris Professor at the Yale Child Study Centre, who himself has a son and daughter who are both autistic.
What scientists do seem to agree on, is that at the more severe end of the spectrum, where there is generally intellectual difficulties or low IQ as well as high levels of repetitive behaviour, there is little difference in the display of autism in girls and boys. The other end of the spectrum is rather less clear cut.
What is starting to be seen from studies like Pephrey’s is that female autistic brains are different from male ones. For instance, one of the key criteria for diagnosing autism is disinterest or disengagement from social activities, something which is corroborated by scans of male autistic brains which show their ‘social brains’ for be underactive. This is not the case for brains of girls and women in the study who have autism, their ‘social brain’ actually matches that of none autistic boys, with non autistic girls having the most active ‘social brains’.
It is studies and breakthroughs like this which will, hopefully, prevent the generation of ‘lost girls’ getting much bigger.
Posted on Monday, 23rd January 2017