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Grissom on Autism and Gender

Why Autism Strikes Mostly Boys
November 29, 2017

Why does autism strike four times as many boys as girls? The answer may lie in specific biological shielding mechanisms that operate in girls, but not boys, even when both sexes have the same genetic defects associated with the disorder.

That conclusion leapt from the data in a study led by University of Minnesota researcher Nicola Grissom, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology. Published inĀ Molecular Psychiatry, the study opens a door to understanding and one day better treating the disorder.

"Researchers have known about the 'female protective effect' in autism spectrum disorders for quite a while, but the reasons why girls might be protected while boys are vulnerable have remained mysterious," Grissom said.

This effect means a boy has a 1-in-42 chance of being diagnosed, but a girl has only a 1-in-189 chance, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Those who do develop the disorder have difficulty in responding to rewards that would otherwise serve as cues that help shape social behavior.

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