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A behavioral comparison of male and female adults with high functioning autism spectrum conditions

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Lai, M.-C., Lombardo, M. V., Pasco, G., Ruigrok, A. N. V., Wheelwright, S. J., Sadek, S. A., Chakrabarti, B. and Baron-Cohen, S. (2011) A behavioral comparison of male and female adults with high functioning autism spectrum conditions. PLoS ONE, 6 (6). e20835. ISSN 1932-6203

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To link to this article DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0020835

Abstract/Summary

Autism spectrum conditions (ASC) affect more males than females in the general population. However, within ASC it is unclear if there are phenotypic sex differences. Testing for similarities and differences between the sexes is important not only for clinical assessment but also has implications for theories of typical sex differences and of autism. Using cognitive and behavioral measures, we investigated similarities and differences between the sexes in age- and IQ-matched adults with ASC (high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome). Of the 83 (45 males and 38 females) participants, 62 (33 males and 29 females) met Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) cut-off criteria for autism in childhood and were included in all subsequent analyses. The severity of childhood core autism symptoms did not differ between the sexes. Males and females also did not differ in self-reported empathy, systemizing, anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive traits/symptoms or mentalizing performance. However, adult females with ASC showed more lifetime sensory symptoms (p = 0.036), fewer current socio-communication difficulties (p = 0.001), and more self-reported autistic traits (p = 0.012) than males. In addition, females with ASC who also had developmental language delay had lower current performance IQ than those without developmental language delay (p<0.001), a pattern not seen in males. The absence of typical sex differences in empathizing-systemizing profiles within the autism spectrum confirms a prediction from the extreme male brain theory. Behavioral sex differences within ASC may also reflect different developmental mechanisms between males and females with ASC. We discuss the importance of the superficially better socio-communication ability in adult females with ASC in terms of why females with ASC may more often go under-recognized, and receive their diagnosis later, than males.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Interdisciplinary centres and themes > ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) Research Network
Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Psychopathology and Affective Neuroscience
Interdisciplinary centres and themes > Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics (CINN)
Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Neuroscience
ID Code:21084
Publisher:Public Library of Science

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