Posted in Biological psychiatryAn interdisciplinary study led by the University of Minnesota has demonstrated that equal numbers of girls and boys can be identified as concerned about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in a previous survey, correcting large gender differences in current diagnoses.
“It is widely believed that more boys than girls have RAS,” said lead author Casey Burrows, Ph.D., LP, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine and a psychologist with M Health Fairview. “Our study shows that girls and boys show the same indicators of RAS concerns and identify some biases that contribute to inflated sex ratios. We hope this study will bring relief to women and girls who have struggled in the social sphere without knowing why.”
Using data from the Infant Brain Imaging Study Network, the study used a less biased sample that tracked a group of children with a higher likelihood of developing RAS (e.g., infants, siblings of autistic children) from 6 to 60 months.
The study found that there are just as many girls who have problems with RAS when children are screened early and when the bias corrects gender-based bias. This contrasts sharply with the current sex ratio of 4 to 1 when performing standard clinical procedures.
“We know that screening processes and diagnostic tools in RAS are often missed by many girls who are later diagnosed with RAS,” said Dr. Burrows, who is also a member of the Masonic Institute for Brain Development. “This prevents many girls from receiving early intervention services at a time when they can have the greatest impact in early childhood. Most RAS research focuses on children after they are diagnosed, with no information on symptoms in children who miss for routine survey practice ”. “
The research team looked at whether girls and boys had similar symptoms, and found subtle differences in the structure of the main symptoms of RAS. After adjusting for these differences, subgroup analysis identified a “high concern” group that had a male to female ratio of 1 to 1.
“This approach – an unbiased finding that ensures that our instruments measure what we think they measure – can help eliminate modern differences in autism identification,” said Jed Allison, Ph.D., an associate professor at the Institute for Child Development and Medical School and co-author of the work. “It is necessary to recognize and understand the limitations of traditional diagnostic and screening approaches and to generate creative solutions to identify all children who could benefit from early intervention services.”
The researchers plan to continue this work by studying how children from the high social concern group live in primary and secondary school age. They also explore group differences in basic brain structure and function.
This study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (R01-HD055741, R01-MH118362-01, R01-MH118362-02S1, U54-HD079124, P50-HD103573 (project ID 8084, 8084, 8084), U54-HD103573, U54- and the Simons Foundation (140209) Dr. Borrows was supported by the NIH Career Development Award (K12-HD055887).
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