Girls with autism often have late diagnosis, co-occurring disorders

In a new study, researchers reported key trends in the presentation and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

They found that girls with autism receive a diagnosis, on average, nearly 1.5 years later than boys.

This is likely because parents and clinicians tend to notice language delays as the first sign of autism, and girls in the study exhibited more advanced language abilities compared to boys.

The research was conducted by a team at Brown University and elsewhere.

The team analyzed the first 1,000 participants in the Rhode Island Consortium for Autism Research and Treatment (RI-CART).

Autism is far more common in boys. The RI-CART study found more than four times as many boys like girls with autism; however, given the large size of the sample, the study was well-powered to evaluate girls with autism.

The finding that girls with autism are diagnosed later is clinically important.

The team says the major treatment that has some efficacy in autism is early diagnosis and getting the children into intensive services, including behavioral therapy.

They emphasize the importance of early recognition.

The other major finding of the study was that people with autism frequently exhibit co-occurring psychiatric and medical conditions.

Nearly half of the participants reported another neurodevelopmental disorder (i.e., attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or intellectual disability), while 44.1% reported a psychiatric disorder, 42.7% reported a neurological condition (i.e., seizures/epilepsy, migraines, tics), 92.5% reported at least one general medical condition and nearly a third reported other behavioral problems.

The team says many people with autism need support for the psychiatric and emotional challenges that are prevalent in people who share this one diagnosis.

These are clinically complicated individuals who deserve strong, sophisticated, multidimensional, multidisciplinary care.

One author of the study is Dr. Eric Morrow, an associate professor of molecular biology, neuroscience, and psychiatry at Brown University.

The study is published in Autism Research.

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