Girls are better at masking autism than boys

April 3, 2017
Credit: Leiden University

Girls with autism have relatively good social skills, which means that their autism is often not recognised. Autism manifests itself in girls differently from in boys. Psychologist Carolien Rieffe and colleagues from the Autism Centre and INTER-PSY (Groningen) report their findings in scientific journal Autism.

Information about in is scarce. What we know about autism is mainly based on research among boys and men. That can be a problem, says Leiden Professor of Development Psychology Rieffe: 'If we take the clinical picture for boys with autism as the standard, there's a good chance that autism in girls won't be picked up.' To change this, Rieffe and her colleagues examined how autism manifests itself in girls.

Study among teenagers

The researchers analysed the behaviour of 68 teenagers, girls and boys, both with and without autism. As part of the test, the researcher pretended to have caught her finger in the ringbinder of a file, and exclaimed: 'Ow, that hurt,' while shaking her hand in pain. Two fellow researchers looked at the video afterwards to assess how empathically the participants had reacted.

Empathising with emotion or resolving the problem

Girls, whether or not they suffer from autism, reacted with more empathy than boys. Riefe explains: 'We didn't find any differences between the participants with or without autism. But we did see a qualitative difference between girls and boys. The girls more often responded to the emotion of the person conducting the test with questions such as: 'Are you OK?' The boys, on the other hand, looked for a solution to the problem: 'If you do it like this, you won't trap your finger.'

Empathising with or properly understanding love problems

Rieffe adds that neither boys nor girls have difficulty empathising with the emotions of another person. However, the ability to understand why the person feels as they do is often lacking in both girls and boys with autism. This is why it is more difficult for young autism sufferers to react with empathy to such situations as love problems or conflict situations with parents or peers, all of which are topics that young people spend a lot of their time talking about.

Focusing on the request for help

What do the outcomes of the research mean in practice for the care provider? According to Rieffe and her co-authors, girls with autism have the big advantage that they have a good understanding of many of the social rules. Nonetheless, their care providers should not be misled by this, because it does not necessarily indicate a strong capacity for empathy or the skills to actually be able to form good social relations and friendships. So does this mean that these girls still find themselves more socially isolated? It is important when treating girls with autism to look at what their specific needs are. This may call for a different approach and strategy than for boys with autism.

Explore further: New study shows boys will be boys—sex differences aren't specific to autism

Related Stories

New study shows boys will be boys—sex differences aren't specific to autism

June 9, 2015
There are more boys than girls diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Now, a study led by a University of Miami (UM) researcher shows that behaviors relevant to autism are more frequently observed in boys than in ...

Research finds differences in the brains and behavior of girls and boys with autism

May 12, 2015
New research conducted by the UC Davis MIND Institute on a large cohort of preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder has found differences in the underlying biology of their brains, and in their behavior, that may help explain ...

Girls and boys with autism differ in behavior, brain structure

September 3, 2015
Girls with autism display less repetitive and restricted behavior than boys do, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

In autism, the social benefits of being a girl

February 9, 2016
Infant girls at risk for autism pay more attention to social cues in faces than infant boys, according to a Yale School of Medicine study—the first one known to prospectively examine sex-related social differences in at-risk ...

Age at autism diagnosis differs between boys, girls

April 28, 2015
Girls are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) later than boys, possibly because females exhibit less severe symptoms, according to a study to be presented Tuesday, April 28 at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) ...

Girls with autism may need different treatments than boys

May 2, 2013
(HealthDay)—With four to five times more males affected by autism spectrum disorders than females, much less is known about girls with autism.

Recommended for you

Video game improves balance in youth with autism

November 21, 2017
Playing a video game that rewards participants for holding various "ninja" poses could help children and youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) improve their balance, according to a recent study in the Journal of Autism ...

Potential new autism drug shows promise in mice

November 14, 2017
Scientists have performed a successful test of a possible new drug in a mouse model of an autism disorder. The candidate drug, called NitroSynapsin, largely corrected electrical, behavioral and brain abnormalities in the ...

Relational factors in music therapy can contribute to positive outcome for children with autism

November 6, 2017
It might not surprise that good relationships create good outcomes, as meaningful relational experiences are crucial to all of us in our everyday life. However, the development of a relationship with a child with autism may ...

In autism, too many brain connections may be at root of condition

November 2, 2017
A defective gene linked to autism influences how neurons connect and communicate with each other in the brain, according to a study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Rodents that lack the gene form ...

New autism study a "shocking wake-up call" for society, say academics

October 23, 2017
People who show characteristics of autism are more at risk of attempting suicide, according to a Coventry University study whose results are being presented to a United States federal advisory committee tomorrow.

Signaling pathway may be key to why autism is more common in boys

October 17, 2017
Researchers aiming to understand why autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are more common in boys have discovered differences in a brain signaling pathway involved in reward learning and motivation that make male mice more vulnerable ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.