Attenuation of Typical Sex Differences in 800 Adults with Autism vs. 3,900 Controls

East of England
Published Date: 14 Jul 2014

Sex differences have been reported in autistic traits and systemizing (male advantage), and empathizing (female advantage) among typically developing individuals. In individuals with autism, these cognitive-behavioural profiles correspond to predictions from the “extreme male brain” (EMB) theory of autism (extreme scores on autistic traits and systemizing, below average on empathizing). Sex differences within autism, however, have been under-investigated. Here we show in 811 adults (454 females) with autism and 3,906 age-matched typical control adults (2,562 females) who completed the Empathy Quotient (EQ), the Systemizing Quotient-Revised (SQ-R), and the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), that typical females on average scored higher on the EQ, typical males scored higher on the SQ-R and AQ, and both males and females with autism showed a shift toward the extreme of the “male profile” on these measures and in the distribution of “brain types” (the discrepancy between standardized EQ and SQ-R scores). Further, normative sex differences are attenuated but not abolished in adults with autism. The findings provide strong support for the EMB theory of autism, and highlight differences between males and females with autism.

Simon Baron Cohen