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Meng-Chuan Lai

University of Toronto, Canada


Why we must consider sex and gender factors to understand autism and support autistic individuals


There is increasing awareness and research into the influences of sex-related and gender-related factors on the presentation and recognition of autism. This accumulated knowledge comes from lived experiences shared by autistic people and their families, psychological and clinical studies, and epidemiological as well as health and education service investigations. With the new knowledge and enhanced awareness, autism is increasingly recognized in girls and women, as well as in gender diverse individuals. Meanwhile, there are increasing better-powered biological studies on the heterogeneity of autism in association with sex (but much less so with gender), as well as research into the aetiological relations between sex-related (but much less so gender-related) mechanisms and developmental mechanisms associated with autism. In this talk I will summarize this rapidly evolving field across the areas of clinical conceptualisation, behavioural presentation, developmental changes, recognition biases, biological heterogeneity, and aetiological research especially in the past 5 years. I will also discuss about practical implications, current knowledge gaps, and future research and practice directions to improve the wellbeing of autistic people across sexes and genders.


Dr. Meng-Chuan Lai is a psychiatrist and clinician-scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto. He is an Associate Professor and Co-Chair, Advisory Council for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Clinical Care in the Department of Psychiatry, and Graduate Faculty at the Institute of Medical Science and Department of Psychology, University of Toronto. He is an Honorary Visiting Fellow at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, and an Adjunct Attending Psychiatrist at the National Taiwan University Hospital. He is an Editor of the journal Autism. As a Canadian Institute of Health Research Sex and Gender Science Chair, Dr. Lai’s work focuses on how sex- and gender-related factors act as modulating mechanisms for the presentation and adaptation, clinical recognition, neurobiology and aetiologies of neurodevelopmental and co-occurring mental health conditions across the lifespan.

website: https://www.camh.ca/en/science-and-research/science-and-research-staff-directory/mengchuanlai