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Description: Autism is more commonly diagnosed in males than females, with an approximate ratio of 4:1. While some theories posit that males may be more susceptible to diagnosis for biological reasons, others suggest that females on the autism spectrum are being underdiagnosed due to sociological reasons such as the diagnostic criteria being biased towards the detection of autistic symptoms in boys. Sensory differences (i.e., “hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment”) have been recently added to the diagnostic criteria for autism in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition. Although sensory differences are highly prevalent in autistic individuals, few studies have compared their presentation between autistic males and females. In the current study, we used psychophysics to assess tactile perceptual sensitivity in 76 autistic (58 males and 18 female) and 197 typically developing children (140 males and 57 females) aged between 8 to 13 years of age. While we observed differences in tactile sensitivity between autistic children and typically developing controls, we did not observe any Diagnosis by Sex interaction effects. That is, tactile sensitivity, which is lower in autistic children compared to typically developing controls, was comparable between autistic males and females. Given that the other core symptoms of autism (i.e., the social communication difficulties and restricted/repetitive behaviours) are known to present differently between autistic males and females, the finding that tactile sensitivity was generally comparable between the sexes suggest that the sensory differences of autism, such as tactile sensitivity, could be used as a sex-indifferent biomarker.


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