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Language and Communication differences between boys and girls on the Autism Spectrum

Duration of the project

January 2016 – January 2019

Members of the project

Name Role
Ms Alexandra Sturrock PhD student
Dr Catherine Adams Supervisor
Dr Jenny Freed Supervisor



What is the purpose of the study?

There is a growing awareness that females who meet criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will go undiagnosed or be mis-diagnosed with mental health conditions. This is particularly so for females with intelligence in the average or above average range.

Reports by experts with experience in this field suggest that females with ASD present symptoms differently to males. It is thought that this may be one reason they are not given a diagnosis. One theory is that females with ASD have better language and communication skills than males. This could help them cover up some of their other difficulties. However, this theory has never been tested through detailed language and communication assessment.


This study will compare detailed profiles of language and communication skills for girls and boys with ASD diagnosis, but no additional learning disabilities. They will be assessed in primary school (year 5) and then followed up in secondary school (year 8) to see how their abilities have changed.

Their skills will also be compared to girls and boys without ASD, to see how their changing abilities compare to their peer group over time.

Better understanding of the communicative differences seen in females and males with ASD could support better recognition of the disorder in females and thereby improve rates of diagnosis and access to relevant support. By providing a broad assessment of language and communication within higher functioning children with ASD, it will hopefully also evidence functional difficulties for both genders, which can guide best practice through therapy provision.    


Participant details

We are looking for 20 girls and 20 boys with a diagnosis from the Autism Spectrum to help with the study. That can be Asperger syndrome, autism or the diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorders – not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).

A copy of the diagnostic report or correspondence confirming diagnosis should be made available for the research team to confirm diagnosis. We are also looking for 20 girls and 20 boys with typical development to provide a comparison group. All groups will be asked to conduct the same tasks.

The children we are looking for should be born between 1st of September 2005 and 31st August 2007.

Because of the nature of the study we are looking for individuals who can match the following criteria:

  • They should have performance IQ in the typical range.
  • They should have English as a first language
  • They should have no other conditions that may impact on their language development (i.e. hearing or sight difficulties or physical difficulties)


Study details

January 2016 - January 2017

Assessment will take place over three sessions of approximately one hour. All sessions will be conducted somewhere of convenience to you and your child, i.e. in the school, a local community room, at your home or at the University of Manchester.


Session 1: Parents and children will be asked to attend the first session

Parents will be asked to complete a questionnaire

Children will be screened to check they meet inclusion criteria. They will also be asked to answer questions about how they feel about their abilities as a communicator.


Session 2 & 3: Children only will be required to attend these sessions

Children will be assessed for language and communication abilities using a range of standardized and specially designed language and communication assessments.


January 2018 – January 2019

You and your child will be asked to repeat the same set of assessments and questionnaires again in a place of convenience to you and your child.


BlogRoyal college of psychiatry conference north west autumn 2016

literature review

expert by experience

study design


Communication Autism Blog

For a more detailed explanation of the study please click on the link below to see the full Parent Information Sheet:

Download: Parent information sheet (doc 69KB)




Telephone: 0161 275 8568

Letter: Communication & Deafness, Ellen Wilkinson building, the University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL

I will be happy to discuss the project with you before you decide whether or not to take part, and answer any questions.