Girls may be better at masking autism than boys

07 April 2017

Girls with autism are better at overcoming their difficulties with social skills than boys, new research has discovered.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition that affects social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour. In what’s being dubbed as a significant step into understanding autism and gender, experts at Holland’s Leiden University have found that autistic girls show more signs of empathy than boys.

For their study, academics analysed the behaviour of 68 male and female teenagers, who were either born with or without autism.

Read more: Highlighting World Autism Awareness Week

In one experiment, a researcher pretended to have caught her finger in the ring binder of a file, before exclaiming, “Ow, that hurt,” and shaking her head.

The teenagers’ reactions were monitored by two fellow experts via video after the test. Whether they had autism or not, the girls demonstrated more empathy than the boys.

"We didn't find any differences between the participants with or without autism. But we did see a qualitative difference between girls and boys,” lead author Professor Carolien Rieffe said in a statement.

Read more: Risk for autism higher when parents are older

“The girls more often responded to the emotion of the person conducting the test with questions such as: 'Are you OK?' The boys, on the other hand, looked for a solution to the problem: 'If you do it like this, you won't trap your finger.’”

Professor Rieffe stressed that neither gender struggled to empathise with others, but noted that autism can make the basic understanding of emotions more difficult for both boys and girls.

She further explained that girls with autism showed a better understanding of social rules, though this shouldn’t be misunderstood as a capability to experience empathy.

Professor Rieffe also pointed out that because of this, young females with autism should have their specific needs taken into account while treated as they may require different methods than boys.

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