Girls May Express Less Severe Autism Symptoms Than Boys

HealthDay News — Girls on the milder end of the autism spectrum tend to be diagnosed at a later age than boys, possibly because their symptoms are less severe, a new study has found.

Doctors diagnosed girls with Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder months later than boys who had the same disorders, according to the study.

This appears to be because mild autism in girls takes the form of social awkwardness, and is less readily apparent than the physical symptoms that boys with mild autism display, said study co-author Paul Lipkin, MD, director of the Interactive Autism Network at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore.

Autism is found much more often in boys than in girls, which has raised the question of whether some girls with autism go undiagnosed.

To explore this gender difference, researchers analyzed data from the Interactive Autism Network, an online registry of almost 50,000 individuals and family members affected by autism spectrum disorder.

Researchers found that boys and girls with “classic” severe autism received a diagnosis at about the same time, Lipkin said.

But girls with pervasive developmental disorder, an autism condition that impacts the development of many basic skills, tended to receive a diagnosis at an average age of 4 years, compared to 3.8 years for boys.

This also was the case with girls diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Girls received a diagnosis at an average age of 7.6 years for the condition, which affects language and behavioral development, versus 7.1 years for boys.

Girls struggled more with the ability to recognize social cues and interact with others. They had trouble interpreting requests made of them, took things too literally, struggled to understand jokes and couldn’t read into people’s tone of voice or facial expressions, Lipkin said.

On the other hand, boys exhibited much more physical symptoms. They engaged in repetitive behaviors, like turning the wheel of a toy around and around for extended periods, as well as unusual mannerisms such as flapping their hands, Lipkin said.

Results of the new study were scheduled to be presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in San Diego. Findings presented at meetings are generally considered preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.


  1. Lipkin PH et al. Gender Differences in Diagnosis and Social Characteristics of Children with Autism (ASD) from a U.S. Registry. Presented at: Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting; April 28. San Diego.

This article originally appeared on Psychiatry Advisor