Typically developing boys score higher than girls on autism scale.

A review of: Williams, J.G., Allison, C., Scott, F.J., Bolton, P.F., Baron-Cohen, S., Matthews, F.E., Brayne, C. (2008). The Childhood Autism Spectrum Test (CAST): Sex Differences. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders DOI: 10.1007/s10803-008-0558-6

This large-scale study examined gender differences in the Childhood Spectrum Test, a parental report of autism symptoms for use in primary schools. The test consists of 37 questions covering communication, social behaviors, and other symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder, but more specifically Asperger’s syndrome. A score of 15 or above is considered to be in the clinical range suggesting the presence of an ASD. The test was completed by 3,334 parents of typically developing kids attending elementary schools in England. There were equal number of boys and girls. The results were compelling. Boys had a statistically higher median score than girls (5 vs. 4, p < .001). But most notable, 103 kids (3%) had scores in the borderline range (12-14). This group was composed of 75 boys (73%) and 28 girls (27%). In addition, 102 kids (3%) had scores in the clinical range (>14). As you may expect, 79% (81) of these were boys.

Is the gender gap observed in the parental responses to this particular scale a reflection of true gender differences in the rate of ASDs – as predicted by the Extreme Male theory of Autism? Or do these results tell us more about a possible fundamental bias in our view of expected behaviors as they relate to ASDs? That is, gender differences may exist in communication styles, play preferences, and social behaviors, which are often view as ‘soft’ signs of autism spectrum disorders. Unfortunately this particular study will not give us the answer, for the results are consistent with both theories. It is also possible that both positions are not unique, or orthogonal, since the gender differences in communication styles, etc, may result from the underlying mechanisms proposed by the Extreme Male theory: a male tendency for systematizing and an impairment in empathizing.


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