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If children are children and gender isn't a hardwired difference - why is it then...

(34 Posts)
tabulahrasa Mon 20-Jun-11 12:45:29

that boys and girls with Asperger's present differently?

Just musing really, I'd like to think that boys and girls aren't fundamentally different and that a lot of what is taken to be that is created by parenting and environment...but it's widely accepted that girl's with Asperger's don't have the same traits as boys - why's that then?

HarrietJones Mon 20-Jun-11 12:59:32

They say it's because girls can copy/ hide better even with ASD. Which means they are different.

Interesting ...

PrettyCandles Mon 20-Jun-11 12:59:46

Behaviour is influenced hugely by external responses to that behaviour. Say a child, any child, is overwhelmed by sensory input and be comes distressed, or behaves differently. If they are responded to in a gender-specific manner, a boy might be expected to 'man-up' and get a relatively negative reaction to his behaviour, whereas a girl might be 'permitted' her reaction and soothed. If her reaction was to tune out and become very quiet, it might not even be noticed. The boy could get increasingly distressed and learn greater fear of whatever set it all off. The girl OTOH could learn acceptable self-soothing behaviours. This learning would be happening from their very earliest days. The same scenarios could surely apply to children with Aspergers?

Or perhaps boys and girls are just fundamentally different!

joaninha Mon 20-Jun-11 13:00:15

Tabulahrasa - what kind of differences are you talking about in particular? I have only a son with Aspergers so I don't know the way in which Asperger's girls typically present.

PrinceHumperdink Mon 20-Jun-11 13:00:55

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

steamedtreaclesponge Mon 20-Jun-11 13:01:14

Exactly, PrettyCandles.

Children with Asperger's are subject to exactly the same societal influences with regards to gender as normal children.

StewieGriffinsMom Mon 20-Jun-11 13:01:26

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

tabulahrasa Mon 20-Jun-11 13:12:10

girls tend to have imaginative play and cope better socially, and cope better overall, of course that's tends to and not always do...

Children with AS aren't really subject to social pressures in the same way though, they pretty much ignore them, lol.

I was just thinking that it's a neurological impairment and it does seem to affect different sexed children differently, so it would suggest that there is a difference neuroligically between the two?

But like I said, I was just curious, lol

HarrietJones Mon 20-Jun-11 13:12:24

Girls with ASD tend not to be diagnosed as easily/noticed in some cases as they are quieter/hide amongst the crowd rather than kicking off( obviously a generalisation). Supposedly there is a huge number undiagnosed.

joaninha Mon 20-Jun-11 13:31:42

Tabulahrasa. Thanks for the link - it was really interesting. Basically it seems to suggest that Asperger's boys would benefit from being brought up as "girls" in some way.

Rather than showing that the differences are hardwired - I think it shows the opposite: if Asperger's girls manage to slip under the radar for longer because they have in fact been taught social skills such as empathy, surely that shows how our gender environment is such a huge factor.

tabulahrasa Mon 20-Jun-11 13:58:06

hmm, yeah I suppose it could be that girls are more overtly taught certain behaviours...

I find my DS very uninfluencable (is that a word?) though, I'm thinking of the social things we've made an effort to teach him and how slow it's been, lol

What I suddenly wondered is why it is that girls seem to be different with it, given that picking up on social norms is an issue inherent in AS. I've never really questioned that I don't think male and female brains are that different and that behaviour is learnt more than anything.

Then today I suddenly thought, well why is it different when it comes to AS then?

I suppose it's possible that boys who present more like girls do are undiagnosed in the same way girls were not so long ago and are ignored as a result?

Or that I'm confusing myself even more than I already did, rofl

joaninha Mon 20-Jun-11 14:41:40

Tabulahrasa - i hear your pain!! it's the same with my DS - he seems to not be able to control his reactions no matter how many times we go through the same role play. The thing is, as I don't know any Asperger's girls it's impossible to generalize.

The question re. picking up on social norms is an interesting one. It could be that popularity is such a concern for girls that they have more incentive in a way to do those things that will make them fit into a group.

I know I encourage DS to be proud of being a "loner" and being different because I was the same as him as a child (complete social skill deficit!)and I wish that I had thought it was ok to be different rather than constantly trying to be accepted.

Re. the article - there was an interesting bit re. Asperger's boys preferring to play with girls - my DS was just like that because he said boy world was too tough; he used to get called "gay" a lot and the girls would actually volunteer to look after him, but now he has decided that girls are completely yuck and "mean to boys"! Sigh......

MillyR Mon 20-Jun-11 14:49:46

I agree with whoever said that ASD is underdiagnosed in girls (well, in people in general, but particularly in girls).

I also don't agree that there are no innate behavioural differences between boys and girls. I simply think that our current understanding and research into what these differences are is ridiculous, and well, just wrong.

WriterofDreams Mon 20-Jun-11 15:08:18

Very interesting question. I've worked a lot with children with AS and I would definitely agree that there are differences in how it presents in boys and girls. Most of the girls I worked with were aware that they were "different" and tended to try to mimic socially acceptable behaviour whereas a lot of the boys didn't seem to know or care about their differences and had very little interest in learning social skills.

FWIW I do believe there are innate neurological differences between boys and girls. This belief is partly due to studies done on cases where a child was born with both or ambiguous sets of genitalia. In all cases where a child was assigned the opposite gender to his or her genetic sex, the child and later the adult expressed a belief that he or she was the "wrong" sex, and many of them later went on to have gender reassignment surgery. Being brought up as a girl or boy didn't make any difference to how they felt which would seem to suggest that genes play a big part in how people identify themselves sexually.

As an add-on to your question, how do people who don't believe in innate differences explain the fact the four times as many boys as girls are on the autistic spectrum? A difference that huge has to be sex linked.

PrettyCandles Mon 20-Jun-11 15:16:04

I think that to accept that boys and girls with Aspergers present differently, you also gave to accept that boys and girls are different.

Say you have 3 dc. You love them all equally, you protect them all equally, you teach them all nurturing skills and to stand up for themselves, regardless of their gender. Are they the same? No, because one of them has red hair and is therefore more vulnerable to sunburn than the others. It's not a defect, it's not acquired, it's merely a difference. It may or may not be relevant, but it is there and cannot be ignored.

If girls are innately better at social skills, then the deficit for a girl with Aspergers might not be as visible and as difficult to live with as the same degree of deficit might be for a boy. It might only take her down to the level of an NT boy.

TBH, I have no idea. I'm trying to work this out myself. But one thing I am certain of is that many boys benefit from being treated like girls, not just boys with Aspergers. A lot of behavioural techniques that were originally devised to help children with behavioural or learning-related SN have trickled down to the general population and are incredibly useful.

MooncupGoddess Mon 20-Jun-11 15:35:42

A binary distinction between boys and girls is surely something to be avoided - we can all think of cases of girls who behave in a stereotypically 'boyish' way, and vice versa.

Isn't it more helpful to think about a spectrum of behaviour, with boys as a group tending more to one side and girls to the other, but with individuals of both sexes appearing along the whole spectrum?

WriterofDreams Mon 20-Jun-11 15:38:56

That's the way most psychologists see it Mooncup. In fact a very popular theory of AS is that it is not in fact a disorder but is rather an extreme form of normal behaviour. So therefore everyone has AS traits to a certain extent, and people with ASD are on the moderate to high end of a spectrum.

WriterofDreams Mon 20-Jun-11 15:39:43

I doubt anyone sensible would see the boy/girl distinction as binary actually.

LeggyBlondeNE Mon 20-Jun-11 15:53:25

WoD, you beat me to it!

OP - if you're not already faimilar with it, look up Baron-Cohen and 'extreme male brain' I don't know that I would consider it the definitive explanation of ASD, but I think it does a nice job of encapsulating the quantitative differences between male, female and ASD cognitive styles.

MooncupGoddess Mon 20-Jun-11 17:18:20

Hi WoD,

Totally agree, I was just responding to PrettyCandles' comment 'you also have to accept that boys and girls are different'.

Simon Baron-Cohen makes my teeth itch a bit but I see what he's trying to get at.

PrettyCandles Mon 20-Jun-11 17:26:58

I absolutely agree, MooncupGoddess. At extremes of any spectrum the differences can be so big that they may appear binary, but as you approach the mid-range may not be. But even on a spectrum, there are still differences.

Sometimes, in the interests of feminism or any other emancipation, 'difference' becomes tabooed. But difference, IMO, is to be celebrated. We can be different and equal at the same time.

joaninha Mon 20-Jun-11 17:32:31

Oh no!!! Not the Baron Cohen can of worms!!! I mean I'm sure he's brilliant and all but I don't trust him. I took his test on empathizing / systematizing brain types and some of the questions were well dodgy.

Like if you "avoid doing household chores" or are "drawn to football league scores" then you have a "systematizing" aka. extreme male brain (rather than an "empathizing" aka female brain) - which is a bit gender loaded, methinks.

Here is the link if anyone's interested:,,937441,00.html

Now if he'd asked "avoid doing household chores cos is too busy on Mumsnet" I think he might get some very different results! lol

steamedtreaclesponge Mon 20-Jun-11 20:37:02

Oh God, not Baron-Cohen. As Cordelia Fine pointed out, asking people to rate themselves on traits such as empathy by agreeing with statements is about as useful as trying to find out how good people are at maths by asking to respond to statements such as 'I am very good at solving equations'. It's totally flawed. Especially if you know what the test is geared towards finding out (i.e. how 'gendered' your brain is).

WriterofDreams Mon 20-Jun-11 21:47:18

Steamed, psychologists don't just make up a list of random questions and just accept any result that comes out. Questionnaires are very rigorously validated using multiple reporting methods, and intricate statistics. In fact there's a whole section of psychology devoted to research methods. If you're going to criticise Baron Cohen it's not sensible to criticise his methods - that's about the most rock solid part of his research. I do agree that his theories are a bit on the extreme side.

himalaya Wed 22-Jun-11 12:22:35

tabulahrasa - interesting you started this thread given your name smile - why did you pick it as you seem to be arguing against the blank slate proposition?

Mooncupgodess - "Isn't it more helpful to think about a spectrum of behaviour, with boys as a group tending more to one side and girls to the other, but with individuals of both sexes appearing along the whole spectrum?" I think this is right.

This argument always seems to be defined into two opposing corners:

1) everything that differentiates men and women beyond obvious physical differences is socially constructed.

2) every single hairbrained evolutionary psychology theory is correct.

Both corners are equally indefensible (just from a personal experience point of view if you've experienced puberty, PMT, pregnancy and/or menopause, how can you square this experience with the idea that nothing to do with the biological business of being female has any bearing on mental and emotional processes in the brain).

I think mooncup's description of a spectrum with men and women, girls and boys distributed differently along it, but not a binary division is likely to be right. I don't see why it should undermine feminism to recognise it.

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