Sex-typical play: masculinization/defeminization in girls with an autism spectrum condition

J Autism Dev Disord. 2008 Jul;38(6):1028-35. doi: 10.1007/s10803-007-0475-0. Epub 2007 Nov 6.


We tested the hypothesis that prenatal masculinization of the brain by androgens increases risk of developing an autism spectrum condition (ASC). Sex-typical play was measured in n = 66 children diagnosed with an ASC and n = 55 typically developing age-matched controls. Consistent with the hypothesis, girls with autism did not show the female-typical play preferences, though this was only seen on non-pretence items. Boys with autism showed a preference for male play on non-pretence items, in keeping with their sex. Girls with autism engaged in more pretend play than boys with autism, suggesting that pretence is relatively more protected in females with autism. We conclude that play preference studies in ASC provide partial support for the fetal androgen theory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autistic Disorder / diagnosis
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Fantasy
  • Female
  • Gender Identity*
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology
  • Male
  • Personality Assessment
  • Play and Playthings*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / psychology
  • Reference Values
  • Testosterone / physiology


  • Testosterone