Support Needed for Japanese Adolescent Girls with ASD: The Gap Between Girls with and without ASD
Only a few studies have been conducted on females with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Females often have different difficulties than males. If we focus on the sex differences, we should direct our attention to adolescence. It’s a period in which not only physical changes but mental ones appear in the development of secondary sex characteristics. Accordingly, their social relationships change and the child-parent relationship often becomes strained. When we consider those with autistic characteristics, adolescents with ASD have higher risks of maladjustment than others. Especially in Japan, more for girls than boys, changes in social behavior tend to be expected after puberty. Since the status of women is still lower in Japanese culture, “femininity” is required of them.
The purpose of our study is to clarify support needed for adolescent girls with ASD from the both sides of autistic traits and sex differences.
Participants: The typical development (TD) group consisted of 330 adolescents, comprising 174 boys and 156 girls. The ASD group consisted of 43 adolescents, comprising 23 boys and 20 girls. The two groups were matched in age (Mean±SD, TD group: 12y6m±1y2m, ASD group: 11y5m±1y2m).
Materials: We created a questionnaire about attachment to parents (e.g. ”Even if I don't tell anything, parents understand my feeling.”). There’re also sections about distressing experiences of 7 items. Then participants ranked their advisers.
With regard to attachment to parents, A factorial ANOVA revealed a significant main effect for group (F(1)=20.99, p<.001). The ASD group (M=2.79, SD=.77) scored higher than the TD group (M=2.22, SD=.76).
Chi square test and residual analysis compared distressing experiences . Regardless of group, girls had significantly more troubled experiences with health (χ2(6)=33.08, p<.01) and friendship (χ2(6)=61.07, p<.01). Only the TD group had significantly sex differences, and TD girls had troubled experience with personality than TD boys (χ2(6)=33.57, p<.01).
As shown in Table, a similar ANOVA was conducted to compare advisers in group and sex. There was a significant main effect for sex (F(1)=6.88, p<.01), girls reporting less consulted with their father than boys. There was a significant main effect for group (F(1)=18.22, p<.001), with the ASD group regarding their teacher as an adviser than the TD group. With respect to friends, there were significant main effects of both group (F(1)=28.80, p<.001) and sex (F(1)=9.18, p<.01).
These results suggest the ASD group was further behind when it comes to psychological separation from their parents than the TD group. Because it is difficult for the ASD group to promote friendship, their relationship seems to be hard to shift. Consequently, they ask teachers for advice next to parents. Especially TD girls rely on their friends, which was markedly different from girls with ASD. This gap poses a large problem because learning various things from friendship is very important part of growing up socially. A further direction of this study will be to create the support program for adolescent girls with ASD considering not only autistic traits but also sex differences.