Girls with mild autism are less likely to be identified and diagnosed than boys, according to new research presented at a meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists' Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Almost 600 children took part in the study - 493 boys and 100 girls. The majority (457) had been seen at the Social and Communication Disorders Clinic at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Additional cases came from the Child Psychiatry Clinic at Sunderland Royal Hospital and the Child Psychiatry Clinic, Tampere University Hospital, Finland.

All the children were classified as 'high-functioning'. This term is generally used to describe individuals whose symptoms do not fully correlate with classic autism. Although they may still have difficulties with socialising, communication and behaviour, their symptoms are often less severe.

The researchers found that the high-functioning girls with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) showed significantly fewer stereotyped and repetitive behaviours than the boys. When these behaviours were present, they differed significantly in several ways.

The researchers concluded that differences in the severity of behaviours may lead to a bias against the identification of high-functioning girls with ASD.

Based on their clinical experience, the researchers observed that high-functioning girls with ASD are more likely to have obsessional interests centred around people and relationships. These interests are more likely to be acceptable to parents and therefore tend not to be reported to doctors. In addition, these types of obsessions are also less likely to be discovered when using standardised ASD questionnaires to diagnose individuals.

The researchers have called for further research to analyse gender differences in ASD.


Royal College of Psychiatrists' Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Annual Residential Conference, 17-19 September 2008, Britannia Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool

About The Royal College of Psychiatrists

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is the professional and educational body for psychiatrists in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. We promote mental health by:

- Setting standards and promoting excellence in mental health care
- Improving understanding through research and education
- Leading, representing, training and supporting psychiatrists
- Working with patients, carers and their organisations

As well as running its membership examination (MRCPsych), and visiting and approving hospitals for training purposes, the College organises scientific and clinical conferences and lectures and continuing professional development activities. The College publishes books, reports and educational material for professionals and the general public. It also publishes the British Journal of Psychiatry , Psychiatric Bulletin , Advances in Psychiatric Treatment and International Psychiatry , all of which are now available on-line.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has been in existence in some form since 1841. First as the "Association of Medical Officers of Asylums and Hospitals for the Insane" (later changed to the Medico Psychological Association) then, in 1926 receiving its Royal Charter to become the "Royal Medico Psychological Association, and finally, in 1971 receiving a Supplemental Charter to become the "Royal College of Psychiatrists" we know today.

Royal College of Psychiatrists