Scientists find differences between the brains of girls and boys with autism

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In a new study from Stanford University, researchers found brain organization differs between boys and girls with autism.

The differences, identified by analyzing hundreds of brain scans with artificial intelligence techniques, were unique to autism and not found in typically developing boys and girls.

The research helps explain why autism symptoms differ between the sexes and may pave the way for better diagnostics for girls.

Autism is a developmental disorder with a spectrum of severity. Affected children have social and communication deficits, show restricted interests, and display repetitive behaviors.

The original description of autism was biased toward male patients. The disorder is diagnosed in four times as many boys as girls, and most autism research has focused on males.

In the study, the team detected significant differences between the brains of boys and girls with autism, and obtained individualized predictions of clinical symptoms in girls.

Girls with autism generally have fewer overt repetitive behaviors than boys, which may contribute to diagnostic delays.

Many autism treatments work best during the preschool years when the brain’s motor and language centers are developing.

The study analyzed functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans from 773 children with autism—637 boys and 136 girls.

The team found among children with autism, girls had different patterns of connectivity than boys did in several brain centers, including motor, language and visuospatial attention systems.

Differences in a group of motor areas—including the primary motor cortex, supplementary motor area, parietal and lateral occipital cortex, and middle and superior temporal gyri—were the largest between sexes.

Among girls with autism, the differences in motor centers were linked to the severity of their motor symptoms, meaning girls whose brain patterns were most similar to boys with autism tended to have the most pronounced motor symptoms.

The researchers also identified language areas that differed between boys and girls with autism, and noted that prior studies have identified greater language impairments in boys.

Taken together, the findings should be used to guide future efforts to improve diagnosis and treatment for girls, the researchers said.

If you care about autism, please read studies about cats may help decrease anxiety for kids with autism and findings that may develop better treatment for autism

For more information about child development, please see recent studies about scientists find an important cause of autism, and results showing treating specific symptoms of autism or ADHD can help children, even without a diagnosis.

The study is published in The British Journal of Psychiatry and was conducted by Kaustubh Supekar et al.

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