Recent research published by scientists from the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge suggests that autism has distinct neurological correlates in males as opposed to females. According to the researchers, female autists exhibit profoundly different brain anatomy than male autists. According to Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, the brains of female autists exhibit tendencies towards “masculinization”; they exhibit similarities to what we normally see in ordinary male brains, in other words:
“One of our new findings is that females with autism show neuroanatomical ‘masculinization’,” said Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, senior author of the paper. “This may implicate physiological mechanisms that drive sexual dimorphism, such as prenatal sex hormones and sex-linked genetic mechanisms.”
Autism affects 1% of the general population and is more prevalent in males. Most studies have therefore focused on male-dominant samples. As a result, our understanding of the neurobiology of autism is male-biased.
“This is one of the largest brain imaging studies of sex/gender differences yet conducted in autism. Females with autism have long been under-recognized and probably misunderstood,” said Dr Meng-Chuan Lai, who led the research project. “The findings suggest that we should not blindly assume that everything found in males with autism applies to females. This is an important example of the diversity within the ‘spectrum'”
This is one of many important emerging examples of how men and women may experience numerous neuropsychiatric problems in profoundly different ways.