Sex Differences in Toy Preference in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Typical Development

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 3, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
L. W. Chan, M. R. Altschuler, M. L. McNair, J. Wolf, E. Jarzabek, A. Naples, T. Winkelman and J. McPartland, Child Study Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT

The social camouflage theory posits that girls with ASD more commonly and successfully camouflage their symptoms compared to boys with ASD (Lai et al., 2017). One method of camouflage for girls with ASD may include inhibiting self-soothing behaviors and outward responses to sensory overstimulation, with the goal of making their condition less obvious (Hull et al., 2017). Girls with ASD may also play with more female-typical toys compared to boys with ASD to more closely align with the social profile of typically developing (TD) girls (Harrop et al., 2017). Examining sex differences in toy preference and behavior during play may clarify how sex influences sensory behavior and engagement with toys. Moreover, exploring how ASD symptoms relate to toy preference may reveal whether behaviors during play are associated with individual differences in symptom severity, providing insight into clinically relevant sex differences and phenotypic heterogeneity in ASD.


To investigate sex differences in toy preference during play in TD children and children ASD and explore whether symptom severity predicts toy preference during play.


Videos of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS-2), Module 3 were coded for toy play (the amount of time spent touching a toy) using ELAN software. Videos of children with ASD (n=17; 7 girls; mean age=12.7 years) were coded. Based on Harrop et al. (2017), toys were separated into categories (Vehicles, Figurines, Tools/Weapons, Domestic, Miscellaneous). Independent samples t-tests were conducted to determine sex differences for time spent playing with each category. Toys were categorized as either social (e.g., dinosaur, action figures) or non-social (e.g., wrench). Correlations between ADOS-2 Calibrated Severity Score (CSS) and play time with social and non-social toys, as well as total play time, were calculated. Behavioral coding is ongoing in a sample of available recordings from 60 TD children and 60 children with ASD.


Girls with ASD played with domestic toys more than boys with ASD (t(15)=2.44, p=.03). There were no categories for which boys showed more play time than girls. Across both sexes, higher CSS was associated with more play with non-social toys (r=.551, p=.013).


Preliminary results align with Harrop et al. (2017) and indicate that girls with ASD play with domestic toys more than their male counterparts. In contrast, boys with ASD did not play with any category more than their female counterparts, suggesting that increased gender-stereotyped play may be specific to girls with ASD, consistent with the “camouflaging” account of gender roles and toy play. However, increased overall symptom severity was associated with less play with social toys and more play with non-social toys, suggesting that children with ASD, regardless of gender, may display reduced interest in social toys during play.