Viewpoint: Autism research is leaving girls behind

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Image: Lynn Koenig

Evidence that clinicians are missing girls with autism has been building for years. Because autistic girls tend to exhibit different traits than autistic boys do, they are frequently overlooked by teachers, doctors, and standard diagnostic tools. Those omissions carry over into the research literature, where studies typically include three to six males for every female, says William Mandy, a clinical psychologist at University College London.

As a result, researchers don’t yet know enough about gender differences in autism—and so they miss girls whose traits differ from those of boys. It’s a vicious circle, Mandy says: “You are inheriting any diagnostic bias that is built into the system.

Related article:  Autism linked to the nerves that regulate heart rate

To break the cycle, some researchers, including Mandy, are making it a priority to recruit female and nonbinary participants into their studies.

One challenge with recruiting women and girls into autism studies is that they tend to accumulate misdiagnoses or additional diagnoses, including bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety—often delaying their autism diagnosis. Some studies specifically exclude participants with additional diagnoses and, in doing so, may also exclude girls on the spectrum. “As a result, studies with children may not capture the full picture of female autism,” says [cognitive neuroscientist] Francesca Happé.

Read full, original post: Autism Studies Are a Boys’ Club

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