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Girls May Have Innate Skills That Ease Autism Severity

Girls May Have Innate Skills That Ease Autism Severity

New research suggests infant girls at risk for autism pay more attention to social cues in faces than infant boys. This innate ability may reduce the risk or lower the severity of autism in high risk children.

The Yale School of Medicine study is the first to prospectively examine sex-related social differences in at-risk infants. Researchers believe the difference in observational skills could help protect female siblings of children with autism from developing the disorder themselves.

Study findings appear in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Lead author Dr. Katarzyna Chawarska, an associate professor in the Yale Child Study Center, and her colleagues measured social attention in 101 infants between the ages of six and 12 months who have older siblings with autism.

The team also studied 61 infants with no risk of autism. Chawarska said high-risk siblings are about 15 to 20 times more likely to have autism than those without a history of autism in the family.

The infants were all shown a video of a woman smiling and cooing at them, while she was doing other activities like pointing to toys in different parts of the screen, and preparing a sandwich. The team tracked where the infants focused their gazes, and for how long.

“We found that the girls in the high-risk group displayed more attention to people and their faces than all other infants,” said Chawarska, who is also director of the Early Social Cognition Laboratory at Yale.

“This increased access to social experiences during a highly formative developmental period predicted fewer social impairments at two years of age. It is important to note however, that this may not prevent ASD in high-risk females, but could mitigate the severity of autism symptoms.”

Chawarska’s lab is now pursuing several leads they hope will help reveal the mechanisms underlying this attentional advantage in girls.

Source: Yale University/EurekAlert

Girls May Have Innate Skills That Ease Autism Severity

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Girls May Have Innate Skills That Ease Autism Severity. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 10 Feb 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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