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Females More Protected from Autism than Males

By Chelsea E. Toledo, M.A. on March 1, 2013


Background: While roughly one in 88 children has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), male children are about four times more likely than female children to be diagnosed with the disorder. While researchers have suggested aspects of the female sex protect against ASD, limited studies have tested that theory.


What’s New: In the February 19 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online ahead of print, researchers evaluated the hypothesis that gender-specific traits in girls protect them from ASD. This study was designed to measure autistic traits in general population using two large twin cohorts. They found that, when a female twin ranked in or above the 90th percentile for ASD traits, her siblings were more likely to display symptoms of autism than those of males with the same degree of impairment.


Why it’s important: This study provides population-based evidence to support the theory that females are naturally protected from autism, and lends support to the genetic studies reporting that female children who are diagnosed with the disorder likely have more causal factors in their families. By identifying the protective mechanisms, researchers might gain insight into preventing or treating ASD in the future.

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