New Research Suggests Girls With ASD Need Different Treatment Approach Than Boys

Interesting new research for parents of daughters presented today at the International Meeting for Autism Research. The gender distribution of autism spectrum disorder has raised flags for researchers for years. Males are 4 to 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than females. The current diagnostic criteria for ASD were designed primarily from symptoms in boys, so if symptoms manifest differently in girls, then some girls may be slipping through the diagnostic cracks. Because more boys are diagnosed with ASD than girls, research populations often have imbalanced gender distributions—leaving us knowing less about autism for girls. Other studies pertaining to neuropsychiatries have proved that symptoms can be different for girls, and different symptoms require different treatment. This week, at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Spain, two new studies are presenting results on the association between autism and gender.

One study,[i] conducted by Yale University researchers, found that the extra X chromosome in girls is protecting from autism, so the diagnosed cases of autism in girls is often associated with higher-risk mutation that “overwhelmed” their “protective mechanism.”[ii] The second study[iii] tested the success of the computer-based intervention Let’s Face It! (LFI!)  in improving identity recognition with changes in expression, viewpoint, features, face process strategies, and attention or ability to ascertain information from eyes. The researchers found that while the intervention had overwhelming success for boys, it actually posed adverse affects for girls in the study. The chief of the division of autism and related disorders at Emory University elaborated on the findings, saying “In boys, the more they looked at the eyes, the less socially disabled they are. In girls, the more they looked at the eyes, the more disabled they are… we have to take gender as a mediating factor.”i

Both studies confirm speculation that ASD manifests diversely between genders. This information is a game changer for education, therapy, and other treatment practices for autism. The findings will propel research to design strategies better suited for the needs of girls with autism. At Shema Kolainu, we recognize that all of our children are on a spectrum and are sensitive to the nuances of the disorder. We will take this information to heart when designing the individualized plans for our kids and await eagerly new evidence of successful treatment strategies.

Parents, please share your feelings regarding these findings with us here or personally. Do you feel like your daughter’s symptoms differ from your idea of the typical autistic? Do you feel like treatment that improves others, upsets your daughter?


[i] Whole-Exome and CNV Data for ASD Sex Bias. S. J. Sanders* and M. W. State, Yale University School of Medicine

[ii] “Girls with Autism May Need Different Treatment | Health24.” Health24. N.p., 2 May 2013. Web. 03 May 2013. <http://www.health24.com/Parenting/Child/News/Girls-with-autism-may-need-different-treatment-20130502>.

[iii] Effects of a Targeted Face-Processing Intervention On Visual Attention to Naturalistic Social Scenes. P. Lewis*1, J. M. Moriuchi1, C. Klaiman1, J. Wolf2, L. Herlihy3, W. Jones1, A. Klin1, J. W. Tanaka4 and R. T. Schultz5, (1)Marcus Autism Center, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta & Emory University School of Medicine, (2)Yale Child Study Center, (3)University of Connecticut, (4)University of Victoria, (5)Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

 

 

 

Autism and Touch

One of the hardest challenges for families facing autism is the problem of touch. Often, autistic children resist hugging and other types of physical contact. A new study as sighted by Time’s Healthland Blog offers insight into why some people shrug off physical touches and how families affected by autism can learn to share hugs without overwhelming their autistic child’s senses.

Yale neuroscientists recruited 19 young adults and imaged their brain activity as a researcher lightly brushed them on the forearm with a soft watercolor paintbrush. In some cases, the brushing was quick, and in others slow. Studies show that most people like slow brushing and perceive it as affectionate, while the faster version is felt more tickle-like.

None of the participants in the current study had autism, but the researchers evaluated them for autistic traits — things like a preference for sameness, order and systems, rather than social interaction. They found that participants with the highest levels of autistic traits had a lower response in key social brain regions — the superior temporal sulcus (STS) and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) — to the slow brushing.

A Similar study as reported by Medical News Today reports on Neuroscientists  who show how the brain responds to caress. The brain makes the connection between touch and emotion. “We demonstrated for the first time that the primary somatosensory cortex – the brain region encoding basic touch properties such as how rough or smooth an object is – also is sensitive to the social meaning of a touch,” explains Michael Spezio, a visiting associate at Caltech who is also an assistant professor of psychology at ScrippsCollege in Claremont, California. “It was generally thought that there are separate brain pathways for how we process the physical aspects of touch on the skin and for how we interpret that touch emotionally – that is, whether we feel it as pleasant, unpleasant, desired, or repulsive. Our study shows that, to the contrary, emotion is involved at the primary stages of social touch.”

According to Martha Kaiser, senior author of the study and associate director of the Child Neuroscience Laboratory at the YaleChild Study Center, the STS is a critical hub of the social brain. “This region is important for perceiving the people around us, for visual social stimuli and for perceiving social versus nonsocial sounds,” she says. The current findings suggest that the region is also involved in processing social touch and that its response is linked to the individual’s social ability, she says.

The OFC, in contrast, helps the brain evaluate experiences — whether something is likely to be good or bad and if it involves pleasure or pain. “The brains of people high in autistic traits aren’t coding touch as socially relevant, that’s one interpretation,” says Kaiser of her findings. “The OFC is very important for coding reward so maybe they’re feeling the touch but in these individuals, their brains don’t code that type of touch as being as rewarding as in individuals with fewer autistic traits.”

If that’s the case, finding ways to make social experience — including touch — more rewarding might be one way to help autistic people connect better with others.