Objectives: Primary aims included examining similarities and differences in ASD symptoms in a sample of high functioning boys and girls with ASDs, and determining differences in internalizing psychopathology between girls with ASDs, boys with ASDs, and typically developing (TYP) girls. We hypothesized that ASD girls would show fewer symptoms of social behavior impairments than ASD boys; that ASD boys would have more restricted and repetitive behaviors than ASD girls; and that ASD girls would show higher levels of internalizing symptoms than ASD boys and TYP girls.
Methods: ASD symptomatology (assessed via ADOS-G, SCQ, SRS, CCC, RBS-R) and internalizing psychopathology (assessed via parent-reported BASC2; self-reported CDI, RCMAS) were examined in a sample of 60 age-matched children ages 8-18: 40 with ASDs (20 girls, 20 boys) and 20 TYP girls. Boys and girls with ASDs were matched on IQ. One-way ANOVAs with Tukey post hoc tests for multiple comparisons were used to examine group differences on each measure of autism symptomatology and psychopathology. VIQ and PIQ were covaried if associated with dependent measures.
Results: Girls and boys with ASDs did not differ in terms of autism symptomatology, except that boys had more restricted interests (p < .05). In adolescence, ASD girls had higher rates of parent-reported internalizing symptoms than ASD boys and TYP girls based on BASC2 anxiety, depression, and internalizing scores (p’s < .05). The percentage of participants who fell in the “at risk” or “significant” range for depression based on self-reported CDI significantly differed by group, χ2 (2, N = 60) = 10.91, p < .05, with ASD girls showing elevations in depression.
Conclusions: We found no support for the idea that being a girl is protective against developing ASD traits, nor did we find support for the notion that girls with ASDs are more severely impaired than boys with ASDs, but we did find that ASD boys have more restricted interests than ASD girls. Furthermore, in adolescence, girls with ASDs were at greater risk for internalizing symptoms compared to boys with ASDs and TYP girls. These results provide an initial platform on which to base future studies of high functioning girls with ASDs and suggest the importance of carefully evaluating internalizing symptomatology in this high-risk population.