Girls Show Less Signs of Autism than Boys

Girls Show Less Signs of Autism than Boys

Leiden, Netherlands- 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. Below is a finding by psychologist Carolien Rieffe and colleagues from the Autism Centre and INTER-PSY (Groningen), published in scientific journal Autism.

Most of the research on autism is based on boys and men; there is not enough data on autism in girls. Leiden Professor of Development Psychology Rieffe and her colleagues examined how autism manifests itself in girls.

The researchers analysed the behaviour of 68 teenagers, girls and boys, both with and without autism. In the test, the researchers wanted to assess how empathic the participants were after witnessing the researcher having caught her finger in the ringbinder of a file, while shaking her hand in pain. A video of the participants' reaction was recorded. 

Girls, regardless of whether they had autism, reacted with more empathy than boys. On the other hand, boys showed a greater difference between those with and without autism. While the girls more often responded to the emotion of the person conducting the test with questions such as: 'Are you OK?' The boys looked for a solution to the problem: 'If you do it like this, you won't trap your finger.'

Rieffe adds that neither boys nor girls have difficulty empathising with the emotions of another person. However, the ability to understand emotions often lacks in both girls and boys with autism. This is why it is more difficult for young autism sufferers to react with empathy to situations such as love problems or conflict.

Eventhough girls with autism have the big advantage that they have a good understanding of many of the social rules, their care providers should not be misled by this. It does not mean that they can empathize well, or form good social relations and friendships. It is important when treating girls with autism to concentrate on their specific needs. This may call for a different approach and strategy than for boys with autism.

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