Gender Makes a Difference in How Adult Aspies Behave

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Jan 15 2014 - 10:06am
Male and female brain

Gender seems to make a difference in how individuals on the spectrum behave in general, in how the autistic symptoms manifest and guide their lives. After all, biologically men and women are quite different, even if both are intellectually equally capable.

In a previous article, I wrote about a study which showed the differences in how the mind of an autistic child is wired according to gender, leading to the variations in how the disorder presents itself to the outside world. As such, I mentioned how:

  • Females show brain overgrowth from a young age
  • Females with high-functioning ASC performed better on processing speed, coding and symbol search
  • Females do not have as many gross motor impairments
  • Males with high functioning autism are great with block design
  • Males have problems with dexterity, affecting motor coordination, inhibition and planning
  • Males pay less attention to details and might miss subtle non-verbal cues

Autism is a genetic disorder. It allows for some rather interesting variations of the mind, including mixing the senses so that 2 or three may be present at the same time. This could mean that an autistic child could taste music, hear what they taste or feel what they see on their skin. A heightened imagination may or may not accompany heightened sensory issues. If life becomes too overwhelming and there is a sensory overload, most parents find that their children respond well to weighted blankets, which should not be too costly if made at home.

Looking into the World of Adults with Autism
We focus on children quite often, but adults with autism also exist. Not only do they exist, but their symptoms and behavior differ based on their gender. High functioning autism is also known as Asperger's Disorder, though the term was swallowed up into the category of Autism Spectrum Disorder within the latest version of the DSM-V.

In order to understand how adults with Asperger's Disorder with high IQs function in their daily lives, a study published in PLOSOne looked at 62 participants, out of which 33 were male and 29 female. Childhood core autism symptoms did not differ among them, and factors that might affect the reliability of the study were accounted for.

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The Results?

Similarities:

  • No differences were found in empathy, systemizing, or mentalizing performance
  • Both genders had equal ratios for being diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and/or obsessive-compulsive traits/symptoms

Differences:
Males:

  • Fewer problems with language delay
  • More problems with social communication
  • Often a range of rather strange interests
  • Fewer lifetime sensory issues

Females:

  • More self-reported childhood autistic symptoms
  • Fewer current socio-communication symptoms
  • More lifetime sensory issues
  • Fewer peculiar or eccentric interests
  • A history of language delay means they have significantly lower performance IQ, but only marginally lower verbal IQ, compared to those without this history.
  • Many are found to either outgrow diagnosis or to never have been on the spectrum in the first place, even though experienced doctors originally diagnosed them as such
  • More likely to be able to camouflage autism by learning how to act in a social setting through following social scripts. Some may consciously "clone" someone they know who is popular and mirror how they speak and act in society.

The last point about the camouflage could be used to a therapist's advantage. The girls, however, report higher levels of stress as they try to keep up a front that allows them to blend into society as opposed to admitting to their hyper- or hypo-sensitivity. Even more interesting is that though females show fewer, they perceive more autistic features than males.

In conclusion, though autism is more prevalent in males, females are equally effected, only with better skills at learning to hide their symptoms and get on with their lives, particularly if they are high-functioning autistic (Asperger's Syndrome) with a high IQ.

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