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Why is autism more prevalent in boys than girls?

It’s well known that autism is more prevalent in males than females. In fact, this has led researchers to focus primarily on boys when investigating links between autism and nutrition, a trend that has recently come under fire. Previously on this blog, we’ve covered studies emphasizing the differing needs of boys and girls with autism in terms of therapy, dietary regulation and other variables.

The advocacy group Autism Speaks notes that males are roughly five times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls, yet the cause for this disparity remains a relative mystery. However, a team of researchers from the University Hospital of Lausanne in Switzerland believe they may have finally cracked this code.

“This is the first study that convincingly demonstrates a difference at the molecular level between boys and girls referred to the clinic for a developmental disability.” said lead researcher Sébastien Jacquemont in a press release. “The study suggests that there is a different level of robustness in brain development, and females seem to have a clear advantage.”

Jacquemont joined forces with researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle to review DNA samples from approximately 16,000 people with neurodevelopmental issues including autism. They discovered that female subjects who displayed symptoms of these conditions had more substantial genetic mutations in the form of harmful copy-number variants (CNVs) than males. This led the scientists to conclude that female brains may be better able to moderate and overcome these factors in smaller amounts.

Further investigation is required to confirm this finding and apply it to current treatment methods. As more researchers focus on the role of gender in autism, we may come to see more targeted guidance regarding diets for children with autism and other intervention methods.