Autism is different between boys and girls

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – or as you may know it, autism – is a group of disorders that affects the brain. People who suffer from this disorder often have trouble understanding the world. If that sounds a little vague, it’s because not every case of autism is exactly the same.

For some autistic kids, it’s very difficult to tell one emotion from the other. They can’t look at a smiling person’s face and understand that they are happy or see a person crying and know they are sad. Other kids with autism have trouble speaking, so they stutter a lot when they talk, if they even talk at all. In addition, they have a hard time playing with other children and move very strangely. Most of the time, it’s hard for others to understand why autistic kids do the things they do.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 88 children in the US are affected by the brain disorder, and it’s estimated that boys are five times more likely to suffer from autism than girls. For this reason, researchers usually focus their studies on the brains of autistic boys rather than girls. What’s the point if they don’t have autism as often as boys do? However, a new study from the University of Cambridge decided to study both boys and girls with autism to see if there were any brain differences, and what they found was pretty amazing.

“We need to pay more attention to the female population,” said Dr. Meng-Chuan Lai, the leader of the study. “We have to identify both similarities and differences.” The researchers scanned the brains of 30 males and 30 females with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines that use magnetic fields and radio waves to make pictures of our insides. They found that the autistic brains of boys and girls were completely different. In fact, the brains of the girls looked more like boys without autism!

Lai said, “The key message [here] is that researchers should not really assume… what we know about autism in males will always be applicable in females.”