Special Retreat for Girls with Autism

Research shows differences between girls and boys



By Barbara Melendez


TAMPA, Fla. (May 12, 2010) – The autism spectrum is being researched extensively and findings are showing marked differences between boys and girls.


“The autism research has consistently indicated that boys are more likely than girls to develop autism and receive the diagnosis three to four times more frequently,” said Karen Berkman, executive director of the University of South Florida Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD-USF)  in the College of Behavioral & Community Sciences.  “Much of the information we study is about boys, however, in more recent literature, we are beginning to learn more about girls on the spectrum.”


CARD-USF is drawing on this research to create a unique retreat exclusively for 15 young women ages 14 to 20, and their female caregivers, to be held May 22-23 at the Quorum Hotel in Tampa. This event will include breakout sessions for the girls to learn about social skills, friendship, and etiquette through fun activities. The adult caregivers will be involved in self-exploration activities, personal pampering time, and educational sessions.  A dinner for all will be provided as well as a brunch event to practice all the skills learned during this overnight retreat. 


Etiquette expert Patricia Rossi regularly produces an etiquette segment for NBC Daytime and recently featured six CARD staff and board members in a segment that will be used for teaching an etiquette segment to the girls at the retreat.


Well-known authority on girls on the spectrum, psychologist Tony Attwood, suggests that there may be some important differences between girls and boys on the spectrum. More specifically, girls may have a less severe expression of the disorder which can lead to difficulties in diagnosing. Preliminary research from Attwood also suggests that girls may be more responsive to social skills interventions which serve to inform treatment used by practitioners.


“CARD-USF is very excited to draw attendees from our 14 county regions for this first-time event,” Berkman said. “As far as we know, this is the first event of its kind and we plan to share our findings with the entire autism community.”



The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.