Saturday, 12 January 2019

Sex differences in autism presentation continued

The paper by Ligia Antezana and colleagues [1] provides the brief blogging fodder today and some further focus on potential sex/gender differences when it comes to the presentation of autism (see here).

The aim of the study was a relatively simple one: "to identify whether specific RRBI [restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests] (i.e., stereotyped, self-injurious, compulsive, insistence on sameness, ritualistic, and restricted), as measured by item-level data on the Repetitive Behavior Scale-Revised (RBS-R), can distinguish girls from boys with ASD [autism spectrum disorder]." The sample was a pretty good size - "615 individuals with ASD (507 boys; 82.4%)" - and the findings were rather interesting...

So: "Items that best-discriminated gender were heightened stereotyped behaviors and restricted interests items in boys and compulsive, sameness, restricted, and self-injurious behavior items in girls." The authors add that: "This study is the first to find that girls with ASD may have increased compulsive, sameness, and restricted RRBI compared to boys."

Bearing in mind the care required when talking about sweeping generalisations about 'boy autism' and 'girl autism', the Antezana results do point to a need for further study in this area. Not least because the authors rightly mention how: "Future research should disentangle whether elevated rates of RRBI in girls are central to the presentation of ASD in girls or an epiphenomenon of the high rates of co-occurring disorders (e.g., anxiety) noted in girls." This based on the idea that autism rarely exists in some sort of diagnostic vacuum (see here) and some of that *comorbidity* (if that is the right word to use) could very well be part and parcel of such clinical observations.

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[1] Antezana L. et al. Gender differences in restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests in youth with autism. Autism Res. 2018 Dec 17.

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