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Cracking the code of girls with autism symptoms

JENNIFER AND SARAH ROSS are 6-year-old twins, but they couldn’t be more different. Jennifer is quiet, reserved and calm. She likes to dance, do gymnastics and jump on trampolines. She has plenty of friends. Her sister, on the other hand, is all energy. Sarah has trouble sitting still. She has a gift for math and puzzles, and she likes to play video games. While Sarah has only a few friends and is usually content to be on her own in the playground, she does love a captive audience.

“Everyone know I can sing opera?” she asks. “Whaaaa!”

Jennifer and her mother, Alycia Halladay Ross, let out a giggle. On a recent morning, the three sat in the playroom at the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at New York City’s Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Halladay Ross—the chief science officer at the Autism Science Foundation—planned to spend the better part of the day at the center with her two daughters. The girls would undergo a series of exercises and activities to test their cognitive and intellectual abilities. Jennifer and Sarah were to be observed while playing with blocks, and then they’d participate in word-association games. The girls, along with their mother, were also there to provide the center with saliva samples— the most critical part of their visit.

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