ASD Symptoms May be Shaped by Gender

Autism may affect thinking skills for men and women in different ways

(RxWiki News) More boys than girls have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It is not clear why this is the case, and researchers are trying to understand if ASD affects the sexes differently.

A recent study tested a variety of mental skills in adults with ASD. They found that both men and women with ASD had problems with social thinking skills.

But, for some other types of thinking skills, men with ASD had lower scores on the tests, but not women .

Understanding how ASD affects the sexes differently may lead to better treatment strategies based on gender.

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Researchers, led by Meng-Chuan Lai, MD, PhD, of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge, looked for differences in thinking skills in men and women with ASD.

They compared men and women with and without ASD. There were 128 people in the study who were all over the age of 18.

The researchers did tests on each person in the study to look at a variety of mental skills.

One part of the tests looked at the ability to read faces and expressions of emotion. People were asked to understand what people were thinking or feeling based on facial expressions.

Another part of the tests measured the ability to stop thoughts and behaviors. This skill is considered a mental task related to impulse control.

Tests for the ability to see details in a scene or find a hidden object were also included.

The final test was for motor skills related to mental tasks, like manual dexterity.

They found both men and women with ASD had trouble reading facial expressions compared to their unaffected counterparts.

They found sex differences showed up in some of the tasks that are not related to social skills.

Men with ASD were worse than men without ASD at tasks that tested attention to detail and some motor tasks.

Women with ASD had a similar level of skills to women without ASD for these non-social skills .

The authors concluded that ASD has similar effects on social thinking skills in both men and women. But ASD may have different effects on non-social thinking skills that is dependent on gender.

This study was published October 17 in PLoS One.  Funding for the study came from the United Kingdom Medical Research Council.

The authors declare no competing interests.

Review Date: 
October 24, 2012