Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 38, Issue 6, pp 1028–1035 | Cite as

Sex-typical Play: Masculinization/Defeminization in Girls with an Autism Spectrum Condition

  • Rebecca C. KnickmeyerEmail author
  • Sally Wheelwright
  • Simon B. Baron-Cohen
Original Paper


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.


Autism Sex differences Play Fetal testosterone 



RK was supported by a British Government Overseas Research Studentship (ORS) and the Cambridge Overseas Trust. We are grateful to the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation for supporting this work. SW and SBC were also supported by the Medical Research Council (MRC) UK. We are grateful to Ian Goodyer, Joe Herbert, John Manning, and Carrie Allison for their discussion of this work. This work was submitted as partial fulfillment of the degree of PhD, University of Cambridge by RK


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rebecca C. Knickmeyer
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Sally Wheelwright
    • 1
  • Simon B. Baron-Cohen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry, Autism Research CenterUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of North Carolina-Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Neurodevelopmental Disorders Research CenterUniversity of North CarolinaChapel HillUSA

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