Research on autistic girls didn’t lag that done on boys, none was done because girls were thought to have autism until very recently. Now that scientists accept that girls can be autistic, research is finally being done. A March 1, 2016 Scientific American article sheds some light on what is now being learned about autistic female brains.
One of the things being learned is that, since autism in girls is different than in boys, girls are being diagnosed much later in life than are boys, if at all. The reason for this lag in diagnosis is that the criteria used for diagnosis are based almost entirely on studies of boys. Females mask or compensate for these symptoms much better than do boys and biological factors may prevent the condition from developing in some girls.
Francesca Happ of King’s College in London studied 15,000 twins to find that girls needed to have more behavioral problems or significant intellectual disability or both to be diagnosed. This finding suggests that many girls on the less disabling end of the autism spectrum, those having Asperger’s syndrome, were being missed.
A scientific reason for autistic girls not being diagnosed is that their brains are not functioning the same as do the brains of diagnosed boys. Kevin Pelphrey, a leading autism researcher at Yale, has discovered that autistic girls’ brains analyze social information differently not only from other girls’ brains, but from autistic boys’ brains as well.
Autistic girls’ brains function more like those of normal boys their age. Thus, the brain-activity measures of these girls would not be considered autistic in found in boys.
Jane McGillivray of Deakin University in Australia compared 25 autistic boys and 25 autistic girls with similar numbers of typically children. Autistic girls measured as high on measurements of friendship quality and empathy as typically developing boys their age, but lower than typically developing girls.
<next time we look at how autistic girls compensate>