Published in Biological PsychiatryA multidisciplinary study led by the University of Minnesota showed that an equal number of girls and boys can be identified as people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) when screened earlier, correcting large gender differences in current diagnoses.
Conventional wisdom has been that more boys than girls have ASD. Our research shows that girls and boys share the same level of concern about ASD and identifies some of the biases that contribute to inflated sex ratios. We hope this research will bring relief to women and girls who have struggled socially without knowing why.”
Casey Burrows, Ph.D., LP, lead author of the study, assistant professor, University of Minnesota Medical School, and a psychologist at M Health Fairview
Using data from the Infant Brain Imaging Study Network, the study used a less biased sample that followed a group of children more likely to develop ASD (e.g., little siblings of autistic children) ages six to 60 months old.
The study found that an equal number of girls are identified with ASD-related concerns when children are screened early and when corrected for gender-based biases in diagnostic tools. This is in stark contrast to the current 4-to-1 sex ratio when following standard clinical referral processes.
“We know that the screening processes and diagnostic tools in ASD often miss many girls who later receive an ASD diagnosis,” says Dr. Burrows, who is also a member of the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain. “This prevents many girls from receiving early intervention services at a time when they can have the most impact in early childhood. Most studies on ASD focus on children after they are diagnosed, with information lacking on symptoms in children that can be identified by usual screening practices. be missed.”
The research team looked at whether girls and boys showed similar symptoms and found subtle differences in the structure of the core symptoms of ASD. After adjusting for these differences, the subgroup analysis identified a “of very high concern” group with a 1-to-1 male-to-female ratio.
“This approach — an unbiased assessment, making sure our instruments measure what we think they measure — could help address the current differences in autism identification,” said Jed Elison, Ph.D., an associate professor at the Institute of Child Development and Medical School and co-authored the paper. “It is imperative to recognize and understand the limitations of traditional diagnostic and screening approaches and come up with creative solutions to identify all children who could benefit from early intervention services.”
Researchers plan to follow up on this work by examining the health of primary-to-secondary children in the high social care group. They also investigate group differences in underlying brain structure and function.
University of Minnesota Medical School
Burrows, California, et al. (2022) A data-driven approach in an unbiased sample reveals an equivalent sex ratio of an autism spectrum disorder associated disorder in early childhood. Biological Psychiatry. doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2022.05.027.