There is a growing recognition of sex and gender influences in autism. Increasingly, studies include comparisons between sexes or genders, but few have focused on clarifying the characteristics of autistic girls’/women’s physical health.
A scoping review was conducted to determine what is currently known about the physical health of autistic girls/women. We screened 1112 unique articles, with 40 studies meeting the inclusion criteria. We used a convergent iterative process to synthesize this content into broad thematic areas.
Autistic girls/women experience more overall physical health challenges compared to non-autistic girls/women and to autistic boys/men. Emerging evidence suggests increased prevalence of epilepsy in autistic girls/women compared to non-autistic girls/women and to autistic boys/men. The literature also suggests increased endocrine and reproductive health conditions in autistic girls/women compared to non-autistic girls/women. Findings regarding gastrointestinal, metabolic, nutritional, and immune-related conditions are preliminary and inconsistent.
The literature has substantial heterogeneity in how physical health conditions were assessed and reported. Further, our explicit focus on physical health may have constrained the ability to examine interactions between mental and physical health. The widely differing research aims and methodologies make it difficult to reach definitive conclusions. Nevertheless, in keeping with the goals of a scoping review, we were able to identify key themes to guide future research.
The emerging literature suggests that autistic girls/women have heightened rates of physical health challenges compared to non-autistic girls/women and to autistic boys/men. Clinicians should seek to provide holistic care that includes a focus on physical health and develop a women’s health lens when providing clinical care to autistic girls/women.