News & Current Affairs

September 17, 2008

Autism ‘may be missed in girls’

Autism ‘may be missed in girls’

Stressed woman

Girls may show different symptoms

Girls with mild autism are less likely to be identified and diagnosed than boys, a study suggests.

Researchers examined 493 boys and 100 girls with autistic spectrum disorders.

They found the girls showed different symptoms, and fewer signs of symptoms traditionally associated with autism, such as repetitive behavior.

The researchers, who presented their work to a Royal College of Psychiatrists meeting, said this might mean cases among girls are missed.

“We shouldn’t assume autism or Asperger syndrome will look the same in both sexes
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen
University of Cambridge

Autism is thought to affect four times as many boys as girls – but the latest study suggests this might not be the case.

Most of the children featured in the study had been seen at the Social and Communication Disorders Clinic at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. Additional cases came from Sunderland and Finland.

All the children were classified as “high-functioning”. They did not have classic autism, but did have difficulties with socialising and communication.

Relationship obsessions

The researchers, who have yet to publish their research, found that the girls were more likely to have obsessional interests centred around people and relationships.

However, these interests were more likely to be acceptable to their parents, and therefore tended not to be reported to doctors.

Characteristics such as shyness and over-sensitivity, common to people affected by autism, are sometimes deemed to be typically female traits
Judith Gould
National Autistic Society

In addition, these types of obsessions were less likely to be discovered using standard diagnostic questionnaires.

The investigators said more research was needed to analyse how autism spectrum conditions manifest differently in the sexes.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, an autism expert at the University of Cambridge, agreed.

He said: “This is an important clinical issue and there are too few studies addressing it.

“We shouldn’t assume autism or Asperger syndrome will look the same in both sexes.

“There may be many factors leading to these conditions either being underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed in females, or leading females to require a diagnosis less often.”

Judith Gould, of the National Autistic Society, said: “We hear from many women who have been diagnosed later in life.

“The way autism is presented in women can be very complex and so can be missed.

“It might be that due to misconceptions and stereotypes, many girls and women with autism are never referred for diagnosis, and so are missing from statistics.

“This may mean that many women who are undiagnosed are not receiving support, which can have a profound effect on them and their families.”

Ms Gould said it was also possible that girls were better at masking difficulties in order to fit in with society.

“Characteristics such as shyness and oversensitivity, common to people affected by autism, are sometimes deemed to be typically female traits.

“However if a boy were to display such characteristics, concerns may be raised.”

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August 30, 2008

Australia suffering ‘man drought’

Australia suffering ‘man drought’

Lifeguards on Manly beach

Australia’s coastal regions have been hit by man shortages

An analysis of new census figures has shown that Australia is suffering from an unprecedented “man drought”.

The statistics have revealed that there are almost 100,000 more females than males in Australia.

The problem is worse in the coastal cities, where women have moved seeking better jobs and lifestyles, while many men have gone overseas.

Thirty years ago Australia was with flush with men thanks to immigration policies that favoured males.

That position has been reversed because thousands of Australian men in their 20s and early 30s have gone overseas either to travel or to work.

It has caused a gender imbalance that is having far-reaching implications.

Town and country

Major cities in Australia now have concentrated groups of unattached women, along with dwindling numbers of the opposite sex.

Demographer Bernard Salt says the exodus of young men to foreign countries is leaving its mark.

“If you go into the United Arab Emirates census you’ll find there is around 12,000 Australians living in Dubai, mostly male, mostly in the 25 to 34-year age group.

“Here is an example of one country that has drawn out a specific age demographic out of Australia which has contributed to the ‘man drought’.”

But the situation outside of the larger towns and cities is very different.

Vast numbers of women have abandoned the countryside seeking better jobs or education in metropolitan areas. They have left behind communities overloaded with younger males.

In the town of Glenden in the northern state of Queensland there is one single female for every 23 men.

Demographers have compiled a so-called “Love Map” that shows how the various clusters of unattached men and women are distributed across the Australian continent.

August 6, 2008

Reptile ‘first-time’ dad at 111

Reptile ‘first-time’ dad at 111

Phillip Capper)

Tuatara are the last surviving reptiles of their kind

A rare 111-year-old New Zealand reptile is set to become a father, possibly for the first time.

Henry, a tuatara with prehistoric origins, had previously shown no interest in females during nearly 40 years in captivity, say keepers.

But his 80-year-old partner, Mildred, laid 12 eggs in mid-July, 11 of which are due to hatch in about six months.

Henry’s keepers have put his newfound vigour down to a recent operation to remove a tumour from his bottom.

Henry arrived at Southland Museum in the South Island city of Invercargill in 1970 and, his keepers say, soon became overweight and idle.

‘Raging hormones’

Museum curator Lindsay Hazley told AFP news agency: “He bit the tail off his previous female companion twice. But since the operation his hormones have been raging.”

It is not known whether Henry had ever mated in the wild.

Tuatara, which are only found in New Zealand, are sometimes referred to as “living fossils”.

He’s become a real Jack the Lad since he lost his virginity
Lindsay Hazley, curator

They are the only surviving members of a family of species which walked the Earth with the dinosaurs more than 200m years ago.

Mr Hazley said he was confident Henry would continue to make the most of his new lease of life and was already showing interest in the other two females in his enclosure, Lucy and Juliet.

“He’s definitely up for it, he’s become a real Jack the Lad since he lost his virginity,” he said.

But he warned it was probably too early to start further prenatal celebrations.

“With these guys, foreplay might take years,” he said. “One has to be patient.”

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