Background: The approximate 5:1 male to female ratio in clinical detection of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) prevents research from characterizing the female phenotype. Current open access repositories [such as those in the Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange (ABIDE I-II)] contain large numbers of females to help begin providing a new characterization of females on the autistic spectrum. Here we introduce new methods to integrate data in a scale-free manner from continuous biophysical rhythms of the nervous systems and discrete (ordinal) observational scores. Methods: New data-types derived from image-based involuntary head motions and personalized statistical platform were combined with a data-driven approach to unveil sub-groups within the female cohort. Further, to help refine the clinical DSM-based ASD vs. Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) criteria, distributional analyses of ordinal score data from Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS)-based criteria were used on both the female and male phenotypes. Results: Separate clusters were automatically uncovered in the female cohort corresponding to differential levels of severity. Specifically, the AS-subgroup emerged as the most severely affected with an excess level of noise and randomness in the involuntary head micro-movements. Extending the methods to characterize males of ABIDE revealed ASD-males to be more affected than AS-males. A thorough study of ADOS-2 and ADOS-G scores provided confounding results regarding the ASD vs. AS male comparison, whereby the ADOS-2 rendered the AS-phenotype worse off than the ASD-phenotype, while ADOS-G flipped the results. Females with AS scored higher on severity than ASD-females in all ADOS test versions and their scores provided evidence for significantly higher severity than males. However, the statistical landscapes underlying female and male scores appeared disparate. As such, further interpretation of the ADOS data seems problematic, rather suggesting the critical need to develop an entirely new metric to measure social behavior in females. Conclusions: According to the outcome of objective, data-driven analyses and subjective clinical observation, these results support the proposition that the female phenotype is different. Consequently the “social behavioral male ruler” will continue to mask the female autistic phenotype. It is our proposition that new observational behavioral tests ought to contain normative scales, be statistically sound and combined with objective data-driven approaches to better characterize the females across the human lifespan.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Sensory Systems
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Head micro-movements
- Resting state fMRI
- Stochastic signatures