Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Quashing sex bias in autism research calls for participant rainbow

In 2010, a group of psychologists pointed out that behavioral researchers overwhelmingly rely on participants from Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic societies — what they termed a ‘WEIRD’ sample — to draw conclusions about human characteristics1. They demonstrated that theories drawn from this subpopulation may not apply to the rest of the world. In fact, they contend that results from these samples often represent outliers.

In autism research, much of our knowledge is similarly drawn from a WEIRD population. But there is further ‘weirdness’: For far too long, autism researchers have assumed that what they’ve learned from males applies to people of other sexes and genders.

This is perhaps understandable given the history of the field. Initial reports of autism were primarily in boys, and researchers have long considered autism a male-dominant condition. In the past two decades, the consensus has been that the ratio is four or five boys for every girl diagnosed.

But work over the past 20 years points to a lower ratio for the condition. For example, a meta-analysis published in 2017 showed that in prevalence studies that rely on direct assessment in the general population instead of on clinical or educational databases, the ratio falls to 3.25-to-1 or so2. Studies of younger siblings of children with autism have similarly revealed that in this group, there is a 3.18-to-1 ratio3.

Read more here at Spectrum.