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Researchers Find Autism Differs in Boys and Girls
Researchers at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston have found evidence of developmental differences linked to intelligence in girls and boys with autism.
The finding was reported at the recent International Meeting For Autism Research in Seattle, Wash., by Katherine A. Loveland, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and pediatrics.
Deborah A. Pearson, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, also presented a paper at the conference, which is hosted annually by the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR)
Loveland’s presentation was made on behalf of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Collaborative Programs of Excellence in Autism/Studies to Advance Autism Research and Treatment networks, from which the study data were derived.
Girls Diagnosed Later
The collaborative study is one of the largest to date to look at girls with autism. Boys with autism outnumber girls 3 to 1, and some studies have suggested that girls present differently than boys and are often diagnosed later. Early diagnosis can lead to quicker intervention and better outcomes.
“In our study, we found that boys with higher IQs had milder autism symptoms than boys with lower IQs, but this relationship between IQ and autism symptoms was not found for girls,” Loveland said. “This could mean that other factors than IQ are more important in determining how severely affected girls are by autism.
“On the other hand,” said Loveland, who was elected to the INSAR board as treasurer for a two-year-term, “we also found that IQ is a better predictor of how well girls are doing in everyday living skills than it is for boys. This might be a result of how girls and boys are socialized differently.
Pearson presented a paper on adaptive functioning of children with both autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Her NIH-sponsored research showed that children with autism and symptoms of ADHD had more difficulty with adaptive skills such as daily living skills and socialization, as compared with children who had just autism alone.
Since weaker adaptive skills predict later social and vocational success, children with autism/ ADHD are at a higher risk of having difficulty functioning later in life than other children with autism, Pearson said.
“We’re now recognizing that children with autism often also have psychiatric co-morbidities such as depression, anxiety or ADHD, which add another layer of problems for the child,” Pearson said. “If we can diagnose them early with these comorbidities, we can treat them, and the children will have a better outcome both in the short run and down the road.”
Both Loveland and Pearson also have faculty appointments in the UT Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston.
The study on children with autism and ADHD is still open for participants. For more information on current studies at the Center for Human Development Research at the Medical School, call 713-500-2580 or visit http://www.uth.tmc.edu/chdr/.
By Deborah Mann Lake, Institutional Advancement
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