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Study: Girls Diagnosed With Autism About 1.5 Years Later Than Boys

A new study reveals that girls with autism receive a diagnosis, on average, nearly 1.5 years later than boys. This is likely because parents and clinicians tend to notice language delays as the first sign of autism, and the girls in the study had more advanced language skills compared to the boys, say the researchers.

The findings are published in the journal Autism Research.

Study author Dr. Stephen Sheinkopf, an associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Brown, emphasized the importance of early recognition.

“We need to think about how we can improve recognition of autism in individuals — including many of these girls — who don’t have the same level of primary language delay but may have other difficulties in social communication, social play and adapting to the social world,” he said.

“And as we improve diagnosis for the full range of individuals in the early years, we must also rethink early interventions to make sure they’re designed appropriately for children who might need assistance on more nuanced elements of social adaptation. We need to refine treatments so they cater to individual needs.”

Based at Bradley Hospital in East Providence, the research team behind the Rhode Island Consortium for Autism Research and Treatment (RI-CART) enrolled more than 20 percent of pediatric-age individuals with autism in Rhode Island. Participants were recruited from all geographic regions of the state, and as part of the study, they were given rigorous in-person assessments.

Most participants had received an autism diagnosis prior to entering the study (a community diagnosis), and their diagnosis was subsequently confirmed by an in-person assessor, meaning that they also received a research diagnosis.

The study also included individuals whose diagnoses were less clear cut. For example, some individuals received either a community diagnosis or a research diagnosis, but not both. Other individuals were referred to the study but did not have evidence of autism from either a community evaluation or the research assessment.

“The group that was diagnostically less clear-cut represents the complexity that clinicians encounter on a daily basis, so it’s a realistic sample in that sense,” Sheinkopf said. “This full range of heterogeneous autism presentation is rather unique to our study.”

The other major finding of the study was that people with autism frequently exhibit co-occurring psychiatric and medical conditions.

Nearly half of the participants reported another neurodevelopmental disorder, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or intellectual disability; 44.1 percent reported a psychiatric disorder; 42.7 percent reported a neurological condition (seizures/epilepsy, migraines, tics); 92.5 percent reported at least one general medical condition and nearly a third reported other behavioral problems.

“These co-occurring conditions need also to be a focus of treatment for patients,” said study author Dr. Eric Morrow, an associate professor of molecular biology, neuroscience and psychiatry at Brown University.

“Many people with autism need support for the psychiatric and emotional challenges that are prevalent in people who share this one diagnosis,” Sheinkopf added. “These are clinically complicated individuals who deserve strong, sophisticated, multidimensional, multidisciplinary care.”

Going forward, the researchers are hopeful that the RI-CART registry will lead to more studies that will improve the lives of people with autism and their families, particularly because the group currently involves such a wide age range of participants, including individuals with autism ages 2 to nearly 64.

“Given that autism is a developmental disorder, the field really needs to focus on longitudinal studies: following people’s development and transitions,” Morrow said. “I think we’re going to learn even more when we follow children from a very young age as they develop, including into adulthood.”

Source: Brown University

Study: Girls Diagnosed With Autism About 1.5 Years Later Than Boys

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). Study: Girls Diagnosed With Autism About 1.5 Years Later Than Boys. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/01/23/girls-are-diagnosed-with-autism-about-1-5-years-later-than-boys/153612.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 23 Jan 2020 (Originally: 23 Jan 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 23 Jan 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.