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Sex differences and gendered behaviors: An analysis of school-age children and adolescents with high-functioning autism.


This dissertation contains two studies, which are intended to expand our current knowledge about girls with ASD without intellectual disability. The first study examined sex-differences in ASD symptom endorsement and coexisting internalizing and externalizing behaviors. The second study explored the social behaviors of boys and girls with ASD at school, and the extent to which they endorsed masculine and feminine social preferences and social behaviors.

There is some literature to suggest that boys and girls differentially endorse ASD social communication deficits, repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. Additionally, girls are reported to endorse greater internalizing behaviors than boys. Yet girls with ASD without intellectual disability are underrepresented in the literature and less is known about their experiences. It is unclear how gender and the deficits associated with ASD affect the social relationships of girls and boys with ASD at school.

Thirty-eight girls with ASD were matched by age (μ = 9.97 (3.86)), grade, IQ (μ = 93.29 (13.34)), and city of residence to boys with ASD. In the first study, between-group comparisons of IQ, the deficits associated with ASD, and internalizing and externalizing behaviors were examined. The second study used mixed methods analysis to examine participant observation field notes and to explore the social characteristics of boys and girls with ASD at school during unstructured social periods.

In the first study, differences in IQ and ASD symptom endorsement were not detected, however, the findings indicated that both parents and teachers report that girls with autism endorse greater internalizing symptomology than boys with ASD.

In the second study, gender differences were also detected in the observed social characteristics and behaviors of children with ASD. Both boys and girls with ASD primarily engaged in same-gender play and socializing activities when hanging out at school. Within the ASD sample, girls with ASD made more social initiations and were more persistent in gaining access into peer groups compared to boys with ASD. Boys with ASD spent more time alone and rejected more social initiations compared to girls with ASD. The challenges associated with ASD were more difficult to detect in girls than in boys. Modifications to social skills interventions at school are needed to better address the environmental factors that influence the social behaviors of boys and girls with ASD.

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