Circumscribed Interests and Attention in Autism: The Role of Biological Sex

Recent studies suggest that circumscribed interests (CI) in females with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may align more closely with interests reported in typical female development than those typically reported for ASD males. We used eye-tracking to quantify attention to arrays containing combinations of male, female and neutral images in elementary-aged males and females with and without ASD. A number of condition × sex effects emerged, with both groups attending to images that corresponded with interests typically associated with their biological sex. Diagnostic effects reported in similar studies were not replicated in our modified design. Our findings of more typical attention patterns to gender-typical images in ASD females is consistent with evidence of sex differences in CI and inconsistent with the “Extreme Male Brain” theory of ASD.

Keywords: Circumscribed interests; Extreme Male Brain theory; Eye-tracking; Females; Sex differences.