Gender Bias May Affect Female Autism Diagnosis
Exploring the discrepancy between genders when diagnosing autism.
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Researchers from Edge Hill University have found that there is a gender bias towards males when associating autistic traits that may impact the identification of autism in females. The study, published in PLOS One, further explores the discrepancy between genders when diagnosing autism.
Technology Networks’ Junior Science Editor Rhianna-lily Smith was joined by author Dr. Gray Atherton in an exclusive interview to discuss their study on gender bias hindering the identification of autistic females. Credit: Technology Networks.
Is autism a male condition?
Autism spectrum condition (ASC) is a neurodevelopmental condition that is typically associated with impairments in communication and social interaction. ASC is seen in males far more often than females, with males being three times more likely to be diagnosed. Females also “have a higher average age of diagnosis than males and are more likely to be diagnosed in adulthood rather than childhood,” said last author, Dr. Liam Cross.
Autistic traits are associated with males
Dr. Gray Atherton and her colleagues gave participants a series of tasks including an Implicit Association Test, where they had to categorize autistic traits with either male or female names to identify whether a subconscious bias existed. They were asked to rate either a female or male character in relation to certain statements using the Autism Quotient – an assessment of autistic traits.
Participants were typically faster to categorize male names with autistic traits compared to female names When asked to rate hypothetical characters, the participants were also less likely to rate females as highly on certain traits even when presented with vignettes containing identical information apart from pronouns and names.
How can a subconscious bias impact diagnosis?
This study portrays the complexity of diagnosing neurodivergent conditions across genders. Dr. Atherton and her colleague's research underpins the importance of further investigations into how this condition may be characterized differently in females.
“Members of the autistic community, such as women who have been diagnosed later in life and parents of autistic female children, have raised concerns about the impact on women and girls’ wellbeing and their ability to ‘fit in’,” Atherton concluded.
Reference: Brickhill R, Atherton G, Piovesan A, Cross L. Autism, thy name is man: Exploring implicit and explicit gender bias in autism perceptions. Singh AS, ed. PLoS ONE. 2023;18(8):e0284013. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0284013
This article is a rework of a press release issued by Edge Hill University. Material has been edited for length and content.