Autistic girls more likely to decrease in symptom severity over time compared to boys

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EXCERPTS: A longitudinal study explored changes in symptom severity among young boys and girls with autism. The study, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, found that nearly 30% of the children showed less severe symptoms at age 6 than they had at age 3. Girls with autism were more likely to experience a decrease in symptom severity compared to boys and less likely to experience an increase in symptom severity.

[...] the decreasing severity group included a disproportionate number of girls. This group also had more children with higher average IQs at both baseline and follow-up, and more children with greater adaptive functioning at follow-up. The increasing severity group, on the other hand, had a disproportionately low number of girls, as well as lower average IQ scores and reduced adaptive skills over time. Finally, the stable severity group had an equal ratio of boys and girls, stable adaptive skills, and tended to show increases in IQ with time.

The current understanding of autism tends to assume that girls with autism experience more impairment than boys. The study authors say it is therefore surprising that the girls in their study were more likely than the boys to experience a decrease in symptom severity and less likely to see an increase. This unexpected finding may have to do with the fact that girls with autism are more likely to “mask” their symptoms — a coping strategy that involves hiding one’s symptoms in social settings. It could be that the young girls in their study were already learning to camouflage their symptoms, creating the illusion that their symptoms were declining.

The authors intend to explore further longitudinal associations in future follow-ups and hope to gain more insight on why girls and boys with autism might present with different symptom severity trajectories... (MORE -details)

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