Self-reported sex differences in high-functioning adults with autism: a meta-analysis.
ABSTRACT: Sex differences in autistic symptomatology are believed to contribute to the mis- and missed diagnosis of many girls and women with an autism spectrum condition (ASC). Whilst recent years have seen the emergence of clinical and empirical reports delineating the profile of young autistic girls, recognition of sex differences in symptomatology in adulthood is far more limited.We chose here to focus on symptomatology as reported using a screening instrument, the Ritvo Autism Asperger Diagnostic Scale-Revised (RAADS-R). In a meta-analysis, we pooled and analysed RAADS-R data from a number of experimental groups. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) searched for the presence of main effects of Sex and Diagnosis and for interactions between these factors in our sample of autistic and non-autistic adults.In social relatedness and circumscribed interests, main effects of Diagnosis revealed that as expected, autistic adults reported significantly greater lifetime prevalence of symptoms in these domains; an effect of Sex, in circumscribed interests, also suggested that males generally reported more prevalent symptoms than females. An interaction of Sex and Diagnosis in language symptomatology revealed that a normative sex difference in language difficulties was attenuated in autism. An interaction of Sex and Diagnosis in the sensorimotor domain revealed the opposite picture: a lack of sex differences between typically developing men and women and a greater prevalence of sensorimotor symptoms in autistic women than autistic men.We discuss the literature on childhood sex differences in relation to those which emerged in our adult sample. Where childhood sex differences fail to persist in adulthood, several interpretations exist, and we discuss, for example, an inherent sampling bias that may mean that only autistic women most similar to the male presentation are diagnosed. The finding that sensorimotor symptomatology is more highly reported by autistic women is a finding requiring objective confirmation, given its potential importance in diagnosis.
Project description:Autistic individuals commonly show circumscribed or "special" interests: areas of obsessive interest in a specific category. The present study investigated what impact these interests have on attention, an aspect of autistic cognition often reported as altered. In neurotypical individuals, interest and expertise have been shown to result in an automatic attentional priority for related items. Here, we examine whether this change in salience is also seen in autism.Adolescents and young adults with and without autism performed a personalized selective attention task assessing the level of attentional priority afforded to images related to the participant's specific interests. In addition, participants performed a similar task with generic images in order to isolate any effects of interest and expertise. Crucially, all autistic and non-autistic individuals recruited for this study held a strong passion or interest. As such, any differences in attention could not be solely attributed to differing prevalence of interests in the two groups. In both tasks, participants were asked to perform a central target-detection task while ignoring irrelevant distractors (related or unrelated to their interests). The level of distractor interference under various task conditions was taken as an indication of attentional priority.Neurotypical individuals showed the predicted attentional priority for the circumscribed interest images but not generic items, reflecting the impact of their interest and expertise. Contrary to predictions, autistic individuals did not show this priority: processing the interest-related stimuli only when task demands were low. Attention to images unrelated to circumscribed interests was equivalent in the two groups.These results suggest that despite autistic individuals holding an intense interest in a particular class of stimuli, there may be a reduced impact of this prior experience and expertise on attentional processing. The implications of this absence of automatic priority are discussed in terms of the behaviors associated with the condition.
Project description:Prior work has revealed sex/gender-dependent autistic characteristics across behavioural and neural/biological domains. It remains unclear whether and how neural sex/gender differences are related to behavioural sex/gender differences in autism. Here, we examined whether atypical neural responses during mentalizing and self-representation are sex/gender-dependent in autistic adults and explored whether 'camouflaging' (acting as if behaviourally neurotypical) is associated with sex/gender-dependent neural responses. In total, N?=?119 adults (33 typically developing males, 29 autistic males, 29 typically developing females and 28 autistic females) participated in a task-related functional magnetic resonance imaging paradigm to assess neural activation within right temporo-parietal junction and ventromedial prefrontal cortex during mentalizing and self-representation. Camouflaging in autism was quantified as the discrepancy between extrinsic behaviour in social-interpersonal contexts and intrinsic status. While autistic men showed hypoactive right temporo-parietal junction mentalizing and ventromedial prefrontal cortex self-representation responses compared to typically developing men, such neural responses in autistic women were not different from typically developing women. In autistic women only, increasing camouflaging was associated with heightened ventromedial prefrontal cortex self-representation response. There is a lack of impaired neural self-representation and mentalizing in autistic women compared to typically developing women. Camouflaging is heightened in autistic women and may relate to neural self-representation response. These results reveal brain-behaviour relations that help explain sex/gender-heterogeneity in social brain function in autism.
Project description:This study investigated cognitive control of social and nonsocial information in autism using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and a neurotypical control group completed an oddball target detection task where target stimuli were either faces or nonsocial objects previously shown to be related to circumscribed interests in autism. The ASD group demonstrated relatively increased activation to social targets in right insular cortex and in left superior frontal gyrus and relatively decreased activation to nonsocial targets related to circumscribed interests in multiple frontostriatal brain regions. Findings suggest that frontostriatal recruitment during cognitive control in ASD is contingent on stimulus type, with increased activation for social stimuli and decreased activation for nonsocial stimuli related to circumscribed interests.
Project description:BACKGROUND:There is a heightened prevalence of autism in anorexia nervosa (AN) compared to the general population. Autistic people with AN experience a longer illness duration and poorer treatment outcomes. Whether sensory differences in autism could contribute to altered taste and smell as a potential maintaining factor in AN is under-explored. The aim of this study was to explore whether autistic traits are associated with taste and olfaction differences in AN. METHODS:The study recruited n = 40 people with AN, and n = 40 healthy controls (HC). Smell sensitivity was measured using the Sniffin' Sticks test. Taste sensitivity was measured using taste strips. Participants self-rated their autistic traits using the Autism Spectrum Quotient. RESULTS:There were no significant differences on taste and olfactory outcomes between people with AN and HC. These findings did not change after controlling for the heightened levels of autistic traits in the AN group. No relationship between taste and smell outcomes and autistic traits were identified within the AN group. LIMITATIONS:The current study is not able to draw conclusions about taste and smell processing in co-occurring autism and AN as it only measured levels of autistic traits, rather than comparing people with and without an autism diagnosis. CONCLUSIONS:No significant associations between autistic traits and taste and smell processing in AN were identified. Future research should consider further exploring this area, including by comparing autistic women to women with AN.
Project description:The distinction between autism and Asperger syndrome has been abandoned in the DSM-5. However, this clinical categorization largely overlaps with the presence or absence of a speech onset delay which is associated with clinical, cognitive, and neural differences. It is unknown whether these different speech development pathways and associated cognitive differences are involved in the heterogeneity of the restricted interests that characterize autistic adults.This study tested the hypothesis that speech onset delay, or conversely, early mastery of speech, orients the nature and verbal reporting of adult autistic interests. The occurrence of a priori defined descriptors for perceptual and thematic dimensions were determined, as well as the perceived function and benefits, in the response of autistic people to a semi-structured interview on their intense interests. The number of words, grammatical categories, and proportion of perceptual/thematic descriptors were computed and compared between groups by variance analyses. The participants comprised 40 autistic adults grouped according to the presence (N = 20) or absence (N = 20) of speech onset delay, as well as 20 non-autistic adults, also with intense interests, matched for non-verbal intelligence using Raven's Progressive Matrices.The overall nature, function, and benefit of intense interests were similar across autistic subgroups, and between autistic and non-autistic groups. However, autistic participants with a history of speech onset delay used more perceptual than thematic descriptors when talking about their interests, whereas the opposite was true for autistic individuals without speech onset delay. This finding remained significant after controlling for linguistic differences observed between the two groups.Verbal reporting, but not the nature or positive function, of intense interests differed between adult autistic individuals depending on their speech acquisition history: oral reporting of intense interests was characterized by perceptual dominance for autistic individuals with delayed speech onset and thematic dominance for those without. This may contribute to the heterogeneous presentation observed among autistic adults of normal intelligence.
Project description:The corpus callosum, with its ?200 million axons, remains enigmatic in its contribution to cognition and behaviour. Agenesis of the corpus callosum is a congenital condition in which the corpus callosum fails to develop; such individuals exhibit localized deficits in non-literal language comprehension, humour, theory of mind and social reasoning. These findings together with parent reports suggest that behavioural and cognitive impairments in subjects with callosal agenesis may overlap with the profile of autism spectrum disorders, particularly with respect to impairments in social interaction and communication. To provide a comprehensive test of this hypothesis, we directly compared a group of 26 adults with callosal agenesis to a group of 28 adults with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder but no neurological abnormality. All participants had full-scale intelligence quotient scores >78 and groups were matched on age, handedness, and gender ratio. Using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule together with current clinical presentation to assess autistic symptomatology, we found that 8/26 (about a third) of agenesis subjects presented with autism. However, more formal diagnosis additionally involving recollective parent-report measures regarding childhood behaviour showed that only 3/22 met complete formal criteria for an autism spectrum disorder (parent reports were unavailable for four subjects). We found no relationship between intelligence quotient and autism symptomatology in callosal agenesis, nor evidence that the presence of any residual corpus callosum differentiated those who exhibited current autism spectrum symptoms from those who did not. Relative to the autism spectrum comparison group, parent ratings of childhood behaviour indicated children with agenesis were less likely to meet diagnostic criteria for autism, even for those who met autism spectrum criteria as adults, and even though there was no group difference in parent report of current behaviours. The findings suggest two broad conclusions. First, they support the hypothesis that congenital disruption of the corpus callosum constitutes a major risk factor for developing autism. Second, they quantify specific features that distinguish autistic behaviour associated with callosal agenesis from autism more generally. Taken together, these two findings also leverage specific questions for future investigation: what are the distal causes (genetic and environmental) determining both callosal agenesis and its autistic features, and what are the proximal mechanisms by which absence of the callosum might generate autistic symptomatology?
Project description:Autism spectrum disorder is thought to be a predominantly male diagnosis, however recent research suggests a smaller gender disparity in prevalence than previously assumed. Accounts of the female experience of autism are important to help reduce likely male-bias in current understanding and recognition of autism. Eighteen autistic females and four mothers of autistic females took part in discussions with a topic guide around diagnosis, impact and coping. A thematic analysis was conducted. Five themes were identified: fitting in the with the norm, potential obstacles for autistic women and girls, negative aspects of autism, the perspective of others, and positive aspects of having autism. We hope that greater understanding of the experiences of autistic females may lead to improved awareness, diagnosis and support for women and girls.
Project description:Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that mainly affects social interaction and communication. Evidence from behavioral and functional MRI studies supports the hypothesis that dysfunctional mechanisms involving social brain structures play a major role in autistic symptomatology. However, the investigation of anatomical abnormalities in the brain of people with autism has led to inconsistent results. We investigated whether specific brain regions, known to display functional abnormalities in autism, may exhibit mutual and peculiar patterns of covariance in their gray-matter concentrations. We analyzed structural MRI images of 32 young men affected by autistic disorder (AD) and 50 healthy controls. Controls were matched for sex, age, handedness. IQ scores were also monitored to avoid confounding. A multivariate Source-Based Morphometry (SBM) was applied for the first time on AD and controls to detect maximally independent networks of gray matter. Group comparison revealed a gray-matter source that showed differences in AD compared to controls. This network includes broad temporal regions involved in social cognition and high-level visual processing, but also motor and executive areas of the frontal lobe. Notably, we found that gray matter differences, as reflected by SBM, significantly correlated with social and behavioral deficits displayed by AD individuals and encoded via the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule scores. These findings provide support for current hypotheses about the neural basis of atypical social and mental states information processing in autism.
Project description:BACKGROUND:There is growing recognition that some autistic people engage in 'compensation', showing few behavioural symptoms (e.g. neurotypical social skills), despite continuing to experience autism-related cognitive difficulties (e.g. difficulties in social cognition). One way this might be achieved is by individuals consciously employing 'compensatory strategies' during everyday social interaction. However, very little is currently known about the broad range of these strategies, their mechanisms and consequences for clinical presentation and diagnosis. METHODS:We aimed to measure compensatory strategies in autism for the first time. Using a novel checklist, we quantified self-reported social compensatory strategies in 117 adults (58 with autism, 59 without autism) and explored the relationships between compensation scores and autism diagnostic status, autistic traits, education level, sex and age at diagnosis. RESULTS:Higher compensation scores-representing a greater repertoire of compensatory strategies-were associated with having an autism diagnosis, more autistic traits and a higher education level. The link between autism diagnostic status and compensation scores was, however, explained by autistic traits and education level. Compensation scores were unrelated to sex or age at diagnosis. LIMITATIONS:Our sample was self-selected and predominantly comprised of intellectually able females; therefore, our findings may not generalise to the wider autistic population. CONCLUSIONS:Together, our findings suggest that many intellectually able adults, with and without a clinical diagnosis of autism, report using compensatory strategies to modify their social behaviour. We discuss the clinical utility of measuring self-reported compensation (e.g., using our checklist), with important implications for the accurate diagnosis and management of autism and related conditions.
Project description:LAY ABSTRACT:Individuals on the autism spectrum often experience heightened or reduced sensory sensitivities. This feature was recently added to the diagnostic manual for autism (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. (DSM-5)). To measure sensory sensitivities, the Sensory Perception Quotient (SPQ) has been developed. In this study, we tested whether a Dutch translation of the abridged SPQ-Short yields similar results as the original English version. We also tested whether this questionnaire can measure modality specific sensitivities. To this end, 657 adults with autism spectrum disorder and 585 adults without an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis filled out the Dutch SPQ-Short. The Dutch questionnaire data were very similar to the original English version: adults with autism spectrum disorder were more sensitive compared with adults without autism spectrum disorder. Women with autism spectrum disorder are more sensitive compared with men with autism spectrum disorder. Gender did not have an effect in the group without autism spectrum disorder. Individuals reporting higher sensory sensitivities also reported more autistic traits (such as lower social interests, or increased fascination for patterns). Finally, we found that the Dutch SPQ-Short is suited to measure modality-specific sensitivities. We conclude that the Dutch translation is a viable tool to measure sensory sensitivities in adults with and without autism spectrum disorder and can be used to further our understanding of differences in perception in people with or without autism spectrum disorder.