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Girls May Be Naturally Resistant To Autism

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In what may help explain why autism is far less common in girls than boys, new research suggests that females have a “protective effect” against the developmental disorder.

Statistics show that autism is nearly five times more common in boys than girls, but it’s long been unclear why the gender disparity exists.

In a study published this week, researchers found evidence to suggest that there is something about girls that’s warding off the development of autism, though it remains uncertain exactly what factors are providing that protection.

Researchers led by Elise Robinson of Harvard Medical School looked at nearly 10,000 sets of 12-year-old fraternal twins from the United Kingdom and Sweden, identifying the level of autistic traits present in each child. When they focused on the girls and boys in the study with the highest number of autistic traits, the researchers found that as a group, the most affected girls had more family risk factors for the developmental disorder, on average, than the most affected boys.

In other words, the researchers found that more risk factors needed to be present for a girl to show signs of autism than for a boy.

“This finding suggests that there is a component of (the) female sex that protects girls from ASDs,” the study authors wrote in their findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“An understanding of the biology underlying female advantage could greatly aid progress in understanding the phenomenology of autistic behavior and in identifying prevention factors for ASDs,” they wrote.

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Comments (10 Responses)

  1. Meg says:

    Does this still hold true if both parents have ASDs. The reason I’m asking is because my boyfriend and I both have ASDs (I have Asperger’s and he has high functioning Autism) and we’ve discussed marriage and starting a family. Does this mean that if we have a daughter then she’ll be less likely to be Autistic?

  2. Erin says:

    *sigh*I can see where the writers of this article are coming from–but they make two equally terrible and wrong assumptions about autism. 1st- autism is not some terrible disease one needs to be protected from. It is a configuration of one’s brain wiring.To assume otherwise, devalues autistic people–however their strengths and weaknesses appear to typical folk.

    2nd, autistic girls are harder to see–because we don’t express in the same manner boys do. And people don’t expect to see us. So they don’t look for us. Not seeing someone is not the same thing as there being numerically fewer.

  3. KA101 says:

    Seconding Erin there.

    Medical-model is where the profit is*, and women are quite thoroughly socialized in USian (if not Western, if not cultures worldwide) culture. I’d imagine that helps cover up some of the “symptoms”, but it probably doesn’t do autistic women’s morale any good. (Typically doesn’t do much for NT women either, based on my experience in the feminist blogosphere.)

    *And that’s before the bleach-sellers get involved.

  4. Crimson Wife says:

    I have to wonder how much of the gender disparity in ASD is actual vs. how much is that higher-functioning girls “on the spectrum” are less likely to be diagnosed than higher-functioning boys. My daughter has classic autism, and I have noticed the ratio of girls to boys among the more severely affected kids is higher than among those diagnosed with PDD or Asperger’s. Autism wasn’t even on my radar when I first sought help for my daughter- I thought she just had a speech & language delay. Had she been a boy, I probably would’ve been concerned about ASD. I have to wonder how many other parents, teachers, general pediatricians, etc. are missing ASD in the higher-functioning girls because of a perception that it’s primarily a male condition.

  5. Tacitus says:

    Sounds to me as if they have only restated the problem. Nothing new in this article, and unfortunately there is also nothing new in the way that it’s being hyped.

  6. Pamela says:

    I dont believe this article. My daughter was diagnosed with autism but it wasnt until she was 14. Puberty was the difference. For 14 years she was misdiagnosed, like many girls…I think the fact that people are still making excuses instead of thinking that autism may impact girls differently (like adhd for instance) says a lot the medical field. There was so much that didnt happen for my daughter because this late diagnoses! How many more girls are being excluded because we are not seeing them?!

  7. April says:

    I find this article alarming. Often autistic girls are misdiagnosed, labeled shy or introverted, they are ignored in school. Boys with autism are usually louder so they are noticed. My daughter is now 16, was not diagnosed autistic till she was almost 9, by that time she suffered; she developed tics and continuously zoned out, still does, her way of coping. I was told by the California Diagnostic Center that she fell through the cracks of the regular educational system. The school she was in ignored her because she was quiet and introverted, and because of the late diagnosis she never received early interventions. When are the professionals conducting these studies going to wake up and get a clue, boys and girls are different, so maybe autism manifests itself differently too.

  8. April says:

    In addition to my earlier response. In the news today autism affects fewer girls than boys. The diagnosis ratio is 7 boys to 1 girl. Fewer girls are diagnosed because they are slipping through testing or are not being noticed. Testing and diagnosis instruments are based on autism research with male subjects. Unless they have a very obvious intellectual disability or speech delay they are often less likely to be diagnosed. Many will struggle with school, mental health, such as anxieties, depression and body image issues for years without support.

  9. Paige says:

    Asperger’s, at least, manifests MUCH differently in girls than it does in boys. I strongly believe that at least at the higher functioning end of the spectrum, there’s not much of a gender imbalance – but the girls just don’t get diagnosed.

  10. Robin Davis says:

    I have a 16 yr daughter and 19 half yr son both with autism. My son is much higher functioning then my daughter. The older she got the more her autism shows and how much harder she is compared to her brother. I could write the big differences between a daughter and son but I beg to differ that autism is more often a boy gender. Raising 2 of them one girl one boy. I would say raising a girl with autism is much harder then raising a son with autism. He actually got better the older he became but she is the opposite and does not fit in with her peers. She gets in trouble even suspended, doesn’t make friends, gets bullied, etc I could go on an on but that would take much time to type let alone read.

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