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Brain differences between autistic girls and boys

Updated: Dec 1, 2022

By DiverseMinds Research Team

Reading time 5 minutes ⏰

Researchers have finally discovered abnormalities in brain tissue between boys and girls with autism that are specific to autism and not observed in normally developing boys and girls using artificial intelligence technologies to analyse brain scans of hundreds of autistic youngsters. The research may help explain why autism symptoms differ between genders and pave the path for more accurate autism diagnosis.

Autism affects children who have difficulty interacting and speaking, have little interest in things, and engage in repetitive behaviours. The first definition of autism, published by physicist Connor in 1943, was skewed toward men, with four times as many boys diagnosed as girls.

"We found significant differences in the brains of boys and girls with autism and identified the unique clinical symptoms of girls with autism," said Menon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences. "Confusion of symptoms is a major challenge in diagnosing autism in girls and often leads to delays in diagnosis and treatment," the researchers said. "For example, girls with autism often have fewer repetitive behaviours than boys.

Lawrence works with people with autism, including girls with delayed diagnosis, at Stanford Children's Health Center. He noted that the best time for many autism treatments is preschool, when the brain's motor and language centers develop. If treatment can be done at the right time, it can make a huge difference. For example, children with autism who receive early speech assistance therapy will have the same better chance of learning language as the general population, but as they get older, it's very difficult to catch up. If a kid does not communicate himself adequately, he or she will lag behind in a variety of areas, with major implications.

For the study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers analyzed functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) brain scans of 773 children with autism, including 637 boys and 136 girls. Collecting enough data in studies to include a significant number of girls has been a challenge, Professor Supekal said, noting that the historically low number of girls included in autism studies has been a barrier to understanding them better. The researchers used data from Stanford University as well as a public database of brain scans from research centres all around the world.

Using brain scans of 678 autistic children, researchers developed an algorithm that could tell boys from girls with 86 percent accuracy. When they tested the remaining 95 brain scans of autistic children, the algorithm maintained the same accuracy in distinguishing between boys and girls. The algorithm was also evaluated on 976 brain scans of boys and girls who were properly developing. The computer was unable to distinguish between them, demonstrating that the sex differences discovered by scientists are exclusive to autism.

In children with autism, girls have different connectivity patterns than boys in several brain centers, including motor, language and visuospatial systems. Gender differences were greatest in a group of motor regions including the primary motor cortex, the auxiliary motor cortex, the parietal and lateral occipital cortex, and the middle and superior temporal gyrus. Among girls with autism, differences in motor areas correlated with the severity of their motor symptoms, meaning that those whose brain patterns most resembled those of boys with autism tended to have the most pronounced motor symptoms. The researchers also found different language regions between boys and girls with autism, noting that previous studies have found that boys with autism often have more severe language difficulties.

Menon said: "Our study advances the precise psychiatric application of ai techniques in people with autism, which may require different tests for women and men. In summary, the AI algorithms we developed may help improve the diagnosis of autism in girls."

This article is referenced to "BRAINS OF GIRLS ANDBOYS WITH AUTISM AREN't THE SAME" at futurity.


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