Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), better known as autism, is a condition related to the development of the brain, which affects the way a person perceives and socializes with others.
It is called a “spectrum disorder” because people with ASD can have different symptoms. Another factor that could influence the development of autism in the brain, a recent study shows, is sex.
Autism begins in early childhood, and children often have symptoms during their first year. These include:
- Avoid eye contact.
- Lack of facial expression.
- Speak with an abnormal rhythm and tone.
- Not understanding simple questions or prompts.
- Do not express emotions or feelings.
- Not speaking, having delayed speech development, or losing the ability to say words or sentences.
- Not being able to hold conversations.
- Not being aware of the feelings of others.
- Approaching social interactions in an inappropriate, aggressive, or disruptive way.
- Having difficulty recognizing non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, body postures, or tones of voice of other people.
In some cases, children appear to develop normally during the first year and then go through a period of regression, between 18 and 24 months of age.
These symptoms can cause difficulties communicating, interacting, learning, or leading a completely independent life.
Another factor that seems to influence the development of autism in the brain is sex, according to a study published in Brain.
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As a HealthDay publication reports, the authors suggested that research findings on autism with boys may not apply to girls.
“This new study provides us with a roadmap to understand how to best match current and future evidence-based interventions with underlying brain and genetic profiles so that we can apply the correct treatment to the correct individual,” said Kevin Pelphrey, autism expert at the Brain Institute at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, and principal investigator of the new study.
He added: “This advances our understanding of autism in general, revealing that it is very possible that it has different causes in boys and girls.”
ASD is four times more common in boys, which could help explain why there is much less research on autism in girls.
Differences between boys and girls
In the new study, the researchers combined brain imaging with genetic research to learn more about ASD in girls.
They used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the brain activity of 207 patients (100 girls and 107 boys) during social interactions. They found that girls with ASD use different sections of the brain than girls without ASD.
However, the differences between girls with and without ASD were not the same as the difference between boys with and without ASD, meaning that the brain mechanisms involved in autism could vary by gender.
The researchers also found that girls with ASD had much higher amounts of a rare genetic variant active during early development of a brain region called the striatum.
A section of the striatum is believed to be involved in interpreting language and social interaction.
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Pelphrey and her team hope to use these findings to generate new autism treatment strategies tailored to girls.
Causes of autism
ASD does not have a single known cause. Both genetics and environment can play a role.
Among the possible environmental causes, researchers continue to explore whether factors such as viral infections, complications during pregnancy, or air pollutants play a role in triggering ASD.
It is always a good time to remember that there is no link between vaccines and ASD. Despite extensive research on the subject, no reliable studies have shown a link between autism and vaccines.
In fact, the original study that sparked the debate years ago has been withdrawn from scientific publications because it was conducted using questionable research methods.
Avoiding childhood vaccines can put your child and others at risk of contracting and transmitting serious diseases.
Sources consulted: American Academy of Pediatrics, US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical School, HealthDay.