Profiling Autism Symptomatology in Females: An Exploration of the Q-ASC in a Clinical Setting
Objectives: This study aims to provide an exploratory and preliminary statistical investigation of the interpretable and reliable constructs of the Q-ASC, and examine differences in presentation across male and female children and adolescents with ASD.
Methods: Drawing on archival data, the current research piloted the Q-ASC within a clinical population of 232 children and adolescents. Parent-completed Q-ASC data comprised clinical diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – level 1 (without intellectual or language impairment). In addition, sociodemographic information included participants’ age, and gender identification, and clinical information of diagnostic status. The sample included 134 males and 100 females with ages ranging between 5 -19 years (M = 12.18, SD = 3.8).
Results: Data analysis revealed eight interpretable and reliable components of the Q-ASC using Principle Components Analysis (PCA); gender identity, sensory sensitivity, compliant behaviour, friendships and play, social masking, imagination, imitation, and, talents and interests. Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) was used to examine mean differences between gender and age groups. Results found a statistically significant difference of parent-reported features among males and females, with greater levels of reported difficulty for females in behavioural characteristics related to the domains of Gender Identity, Sensory Sensitivity, Social Masking, Imagination, Imitation, and Talents.
Conclusions: This study represents an exploratory and systematic review of potential female presentations in children and adolescents across a clinical setting, with meaningful differences noted. The results of this study support previous autobiographical, anecdotal and clinical observations to suggest important practical and clinical significance in understanding the difference in ASD characteristics between males and females. The eight interpretable and reliable constructs reported moderate to high internal consistency, with greater levels of parent-reported socio-behavioural characteristics for females, compared to males, with ASD. The findings from this study aim to identify improvements in the validity and robustness of Q-ASC to assess the sensitivity and diversity of ASD presentations among female children and adolescents.