Girls with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) tend to enter puberty at an earlier age than neurotypical girls, according to a new study.

Blythe Corbett and colleagues analyzed data from 239 children between 10 and 13 years of age. Of the children, 137 were diagnosed with ASD while 102 were neurotypical controls. The group with ASD included 35 females and 102 males.

Measuring the onset of puberty based on the development of genitalia and pubic hair, the researchers found “significantly earlier pubertal development in females with ASD but not males.” Autistic girls tended to start puberty about nine and a half months earlier than neurotypical girls. In addition, girls with ASD had an earlier onset of menstruation than neurotypical girls.

In an interview with Spectrum News, Corbett notes that the changes that accompany puberty can be challenging for girls with ASD, saying “We need to better prepare, educate and support youth with autism during the pubertal transition. This is especially true for girls with autism who are showing earlier menses and breast development…. We need to better prepare young women with knowledge of the physical, sensory and emotional changes they will experience and normalize these changes. We also need to recognize that youth with autism may benefit from psychological and sexual education about the many changes in adolescence.”

“Pubertal timing during early adolescence: advanced pubertal onset in females with autism spectrum disorder,” Blythe A. Corbett, Simon Vandekar, Rachael A. Muscatello, and Yasas Tanguturi, Autism Research, October 12, 2020 (epub prior to print publication). Address: Blythe Corbett, PMB 40, 230 Appleton Place, Nashville, TN. 37203, blythe.corbett@vumc.org.

—and—

“Puberty may arrive early for some autistic girls,” Taylor White, Spectrum News, October 27, 2020.

This article originally appeared in Autism Research Review International, Vol. 34, No. 4, 2020