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The Making of Medicine

Better Understanding Autism in Girls

Why are four times more boys diagnosed with autism-spectrum disorders than girls? Our Kevin Pelphrey, an internationally recognized autism expert, is leading an ambitious effort to find out, and he hopes the findings will lead to better interventions for both girls and boys.

Pelphrey and his collaborators, including researchers in UVA’s Curry School of Education, are taking a four-pronged approach to tackling this complex issue. They are identifying sex differences in brain development in children with ASD, and they will use gene sequencing to link the degree of brain abnormality with specific gene variations. Then they will try to use that information to predict children’s outcomes as they grow into their teenage years and young adulthood.

Finally, the researchers will validate their findings by working with people with ASD.

“Our approach has the advantage of understanding how autism emerges out of interactions between genetic differences, changes in neural circuity and differences in thinking and acting,” Pelphrey told me. “This better captures the complex and developmental nature of autism-spectrum disorders.”

Pelphrey fears that the lack of information on autism-spectrum disorders in girls means they are missing out on helpful interventions. His work, hopefully, will change that — and lead to better interventions for all children with ASD.


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