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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is an umbrella term used to cover a wide range of characteristic behaviours, such as impairments in social interaction and communication, along with restricted repetitive patterns of behaviours (DSM 5; American Psychological Association, 2013). In 2003, Fombonne discussed how males are more likely to be diagnosed than females, with a ratio of 4.3:1. This finding has caused a mass amount of research into possible gender differences between males and females. The risk of these differences, according to Rivet and Matson (2011) is that it may cause females to be under-represented in the clinical population.

Interestingly, a meta-analysis of 20 studies, Van Wijngaarden-Cremers and others in 2014 identified that there were specific gender differences among individuals with ASD. In their study, they found that females seemed to show less restricted interests and stereotypical behaviours compared to their male equivalents. Although, there were still similarities among the severity in social and communicative difficulties displayed. Furthermore, there were differences in imaginative play, with females being better than males (Knickmeyer et al., 2008) and females were found to show more interest in wanting to develop social relations (Attwood, 2008). The problem with identifying these differences between males and females is that they may cause issues concerning diagnosis. It may be that there is a general diagnostic bias towards males, because original studies on ASD were case studies of young males (Kanner, 1943).

What is interesting is why these differences may be present. Some theorists, such as Werling and Geschwind (2013) discussed how biological factors might be at play. It is believed that females may have a higher genetic threshold than males when it comes to developing ASD, which could explain the overall lower rates of females to males being diagnosed with ASD. Therefore, people have argued that females possess some unknown mechanism that may allow them to overcome some of these restricted behavioural patterns and fixed interests. However, it is due to this that they may not meet the criteria of ASD as shown in the DSM-5 meaning that they do not get the initial and early interventions that may be required (Dworzynski et al., 2012).

Some theorists have argued that the less severe symptoms in females with ASD may cause missed diagnoses. In particular, some researchers have found that females, although showing social and communicative impairments, show less impaired difficulties than males. Therefore, many healthcare professionals may argue that their behaviours are due to shyness or anxiety, causing a misdiagnosis (Holtmann et al., 2007).

The importance of research in this area is that it could lead to earlier intervention. If it is true that females and males show a different expression of ASD, and due to this, females are being diagnosed at later ages or being misdiagnosed, then this means that they will not have the appropriate support needed (Head, McGillivray, & Stokes, 2014).

In 2003/04 the Medical Research Council (MRC), the leading funder in medical research in the UK, funded £1.5 million in research into ASD. This may seem like a large amount, but in fact, this was only 0.3% of their annual budget. Furthermore, when compared to the USA who funded £54 million into research, that amount is very small. This funding has further decreased recently due to the global economic deficit, but it is clear that more needs to be done in terms of funding for further research into ASD, particularly if it could have benefits in early diagnosis, treatment and support.

As part of the ASD awareness, WAM have decided to raise the awareness of under-funding in ASD research along with where research may need to be directed. Further to this, links (below) have been supplied to direct you to further information regarding ASD each will give you lots of information about diagnosis, support and can be useful in gaining a further and higher understanding of ASD as a whole.

Websites

The National Autistic Society: http://www.autism.org.uk/about-autism/autism-and-asperger-syndrome-an-introduction/what-is-autism.aspx

NHS: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/autistic-spectrum-disorder/Pages/Introduction.aspx

Research Autism: http://www.researchautism.net/

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/qs51

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