Background: Despite extensive literature, little is known about the mechanisms underlying sex bias in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This study investigates the sex differences in ASD associated with neurofibromatosis type 1, a single-gene model of syndromic autism.
Methods: We analysed data from n = 194 children aged 4–16 years with neurofibromatosis type 1. Sex differences were evaluated across the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R), Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule
(ADOS), verbal IQ, Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) and Conners questionnaires.
Results: There was 2.68:1 male:female ratio in children meeting ASD criteria on the deep phenotyping measures.
On symptom profile, males with neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) + ASD were more impaired on reciprocal social interaction and communication domains of the ADI-R but we found no differences on the restricted, repetitive behaviours (RRBs) domain of the ADI-R and no differences on the social on the ADOS. NF1 ASD males and females were comparable on verbal IQ, and the inattention/hyperactivity domains of the Conners questionnaire.
Conclusions: There is a significant male bias in the prevalence of ASD in NF1. The phenotypic profile of NF1 + ASD cases includes greater social communication impairment in males. We discuss the implications of our findings and the rationale for using NF1 as a model for investigating sex bias in idiopathic ASD.