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While adult outcome in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is generally measured using socially valued roles, it could also be understood in terms of aspects related to health status – an approach that could inform on potential gender differences.
We investigated gender differences in two aspects of outcome related to health-status, i.e. general functioning and self-perceived health status, and co-occurring health conditions in a large multi-center sample of autistic adults. Three hundred and eighty-three participants were consecutively recruited from the FondaMental Advanced Centers of Expertise for ASD cohort (a French network of seven expert centers) between 2013 and 2020. Evaluation included a medical interview, standardized scales for autism diagnosis, clinical and functional outcomes, self-perceived health status and verbal ability. Psychosocial function was measured using the Global Assessment of Functioning scale.
While autistic women in this study were more likely than men to have socially valued roles, female gender was associated with poorer physical and mental health (e.g. a 7-fold risk for having three or more co-occurring physical health conditions) and a poorer self-perceived health status. Psychosocial function was negatively associated with depression and impairment in social communication. Half of the sample had multiple co-occurring health conditions but more than 70% reported that their visit at the Expert Center was their first contact with mental health services.
To improve objective and subjective aspects of health outcome, gender differences and a wide range of co-occurring health conditions should be taken into account when designing healthcare provision for autistic adults.
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