Association Between Age at Menarche and Autistic Traits in Turkish University Students
Objectives: There is a limited number of studies examining the relation between autism and AAM. In a cross-sectional survey, relied on retrospective self-reports, AAM was delayed by 8 months in women with ASD when compared with age-matched controls (13 years 4 months vs. 12 years 7 months, respectively). Recently, an association between higher autistic-like symptoms and relatively later AAM was reported in a sample of typically developing girls. The aim of this study was to examine the association between AAM and autistic traits in a nonclinical sample of female university students. As prenatal androgen exposure is implied in the etiologies of both AAM and autism, we predicted that there would be a positive relation between autistic traits and menarche age.
Methods: The participants of the study were female university students, recruited from a public university in the middle part of Turkey, Konya. Because timing of menarche differs among ethnic groups, only White-Caucasian participants were included in the study. AAM was assessed using the following question: ‘How old were you when you experienced your first menstrual bleeding?’ Participants were asked to respond in years and months. Retrospective self reports of AAM are generally accepted as reliable and accurate in young women. Autistic traits were measured using the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ).
Results: A total of 436 female university students participated in the study. The mean age of the sample was 19.6 ± 1.3 years (range = 17.1 – 24.8) and the mean AAM was 13.3 ± 1.1 years (range = 9.6 – 16.5). The mean AQ Total Score was 18.6 ± 4.7 (range = 6 - 32). Spearman's correlation analysis revealed a positive relation between AQ Total score and AAM (r = .100, p = .037), indicating individuals with higher AQ Total scores had later AAM. We examined the correlations between AAM and each subscale of the AQ. Social Skills, Communication and Imagination subscales were significantly and positively correlated with AAM. We also compared the AAM between participants who scored 26 or higher on the AQ (n = 25, % 5.7) versus those who scored less than 26 (n = 411, %94.3), as 26 had been proposed as a cut-off score. Subjects with above average autistic traits (AQ ≥ 26) reported later AAM than subjects with below average autistic traits (AQ < 26) (13.8 ± 0.9 years vs. 13.3 ± 1.0 years; Z = -1.943, p = .052).
Conclusions: We found a positive relation between autistic traits and AAM in nonclinical university students. These findings are consistent with the androgen theory of autism suggesting that delayed menarche and autistic traits may share a common developmental mechanism, exposure to high levels of prenatal androgens.