Gender identity and autism are topics that have been debated for some time. As more research is done, we learn more about the experience of individuals with these two identities and how they impact their day-to-day lives. Here’s a few resources on both subjects you can read to get started learning more.,
The “resources for parents of non binary adults” is a website that has resources for parents who are raising children with gender identity and/or autism.
Gender identity is a subjective notion that defines a person’s internal gender experience. This is determined by the individual’s external gender experience, or how the rest of the world regards them depending on their biological gender.
Gender dysphoria is the experience of being assigned a gender that differs with one’s internal gender at birth. Gender dysphoria seems to be more common in autistic people than in neurotypical people.
Small-scale studies imply that social and communicative disparities between autistic and neurotypical brains might exacerbate the sense of gender dysphoria in persons with autism, leading to larger variations in gender self-expression. Scientific study on this is only getting started.
Gender Identity, Dysphoria & Diversity in People With Autism
The personal idea of one’s gender experience is referred to as gender identity. It’s usually classified as either masculine or female, although it’s increasingly being seen as a spectrum of experience.
For the most majority of people, the gender given to them at birth is the gender with which they identify. Some individuals, on the other hand, do not identify with their natal gender or with the gender they were assigned at birth. This may result in gender dysphoria, which was renamed from gender identity disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) to gender dysphoria.
Although gender dysphoria is no longer considered an illness, it does reveal anatomical disparities in the brain and body when compared to cisgender persons. Gender role is the external appearance or performance of gender, and they are congruent for cisgender persons. The gender they consider themselves to be and the gender others perceive them to be will vary for someone who is transgender, gender fluid, or gender neutral.
Autism diagnoses are on the upswing, according to the DSM-5’s improved diagnostic criteria. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of every 54 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, with an estimated global prevalence of 1% to 2%.
When compared to the general population, those who are undergoing medical treatment for gender dysphoria tend to have a greater risk of autism. According to studies, rates range from 5.5 percent to 7.8 percent. Children and teens with autism were 7.59 times more likely than controls to display gender variance, according to one research.
Research Behind the Co-Occurrence of Autism & Gender Identity Diversity
On the autism spectrum, persons of both genders often relate to similar topics, such as:
Early memories of gender nonconformity.
Gender dysphoria is a feeling or a condition in which a person feels or acts in a way that
Specific issues arising from the coexistence of gender diversity and neurodiversity.
Transgender identity and autism have a lot of overlap, according to an online research including 727 participants, with trans males exhibiting more features linked with autism than trans women. In contrast, a study of gender dysphoria in persons with and without autism found that those with autism were more likely to have gender dysphoric features. The research compared 90 men and 219 women with autism to 103 men and 158 men and women without autism. When compared to the general population, those with autism had greater rates of dysphoria.
Another 2018 research looked at the incidence of gender disparity among autistic persons. Researchers discovered evidence to corroborate these predictions, particularly that autistic persons who were born female had reduced “social allegiance” to a gender group and more variation in their gender presentation. When compared to autistic males, they had a lesser sense of femininity and a stronger feeling of masculinity, and they preferred to interact with men.
Two theories were proposed by the study team. First, autistic natal females with more gender variation had a harder time identifying with femininity. Second, they chose a gender category and struggled to relate to members in that group.
In comparison to the neurotypical control group, greater rates of gender variation in persons on the autism spectrum were related with poorer social involvement and identification, as well as more unfavorable emotions toward gender groupings in general.
Higher Gender Identity Rates Could Be Due to a Few Factors With autistic people, there is a lot of variety.
The findings of the 2018 study revealed that aspects of autism may lead to more gender variety and poorer gender identity, but it was evident that research on the topic was still restricted since the comparison groups were mostly neurotypical people.
Some of the possible distinctions in persons with autism that might be linked to increased gender diversity include:
Self-categorization deficits are a problem for autistic people since striving to fit into a social category leads to more unique identities, including gender.
Deficits in social communication may result in a lack of awareness or comprehension of gender norms, as well as more freedom from them.
Lower levels of socialization with members of one gender group resulted in a decreased feeling of belonging to that gender group.
Deficits in social communication may exacerbate gender dysphoria, and vice versa.
There is a link between social bullying or ostracization of gender nonconforming persons and autism.
Socializing and speaking are more challenging for those on the autism spectrum in general. Finding opportunities to interact with persons in minority gender groups may be more difficult, and gender self-esteem is lower among marginalized groups.
As gender diversity becomes more socially accepted, more young individuals on the autistic spectrum are self-identifying as gender nonconforming or transgender, according to follow-up research. This might be linked to additional social categories to describe identity, making it simpler to learn language and communicate about these sentiments. According to several recent research, between 6% and 22.5 percent of transgender and gender variant teenagers are also autistic, which is a greater rate than their neurotypical peers.
There is a need for further research.
Although research on the comorbidity of gender dysphoria and autism is still in its early stages, and studies are limited, there seems to be a lot of overlap between both illnesses. Because there may be shared biological processes, such as sex hormones, some therapists treat them as co-occurring diseases.
The “theory of mind differences” claims that persons with autism are less impacted by social rules and norms. As a consequence, they are more inclined than neurotypical persons to exhibit their gender variation.
While there is a greater frequency of autism in persons of different genders, some physicians contend that the disorders should not be termed comorbid. Although they may overlap, they must be addressed independently. People with both problems need medical assistance, both for hormone medication and gender identity support, as well as for their autism diagnosis, which requires behavior therapy.
Regardless, seeking assistance for persons with autism who are also gender diverse is critical for their mental well-being in the long run.
Support Groups & Information for People With Autism & Gender Identity Diversity
An estimated 15% of teenagers and young adults on the autistic spectrum identify in some way other than the gender they were given at birth. Unfortunately, since the co-occurrence of these two disparities is just starting to be investigated and recognized, support and clinical care techniques that handle both of them at the same time are currently missing. Starting with a research published in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology in 2020, certain resources are improving.
Autism Speaks provides a reference website with answers to queries about gender diversity in autistic children and adolescents. Amaze, an Australian organization, also has a list of resources for parents who want to better understand their gender-diverse children with autism.
Gender Role and Gender Identity (March 2015). Medscape.
Data & Statistics on Autism Spectrum Disorder. (March 2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Autism Spectrum Disorder and Gender Dysphoria (May 2019). Seattle Children’s Hospital is a children’s hospital in Seattle, Washington.
Implications for Depression and Anxiety from Autism and Transgender Identity (In January of 2020) Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) research
Autism Spectrum Disorder with Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation (September 2017). Research Gate is a website dedicated to scientific research.
Sex Differences in Social Affiliation With Gender Groups and Gender Identity in Autism. (April of this year). The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders is a publication dedicated to the study of autism and developmental disorders.
A Group of Their Own: A Clinical Support Program for Autistic/Neurodiverse Gender-Diverse Youth and Their Parents is a clinical support program for autistic/neurodiverse gender-diverse youth and their parents. A Clinical Manual. Children’s International is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children around the
Clinicians and Autistic Transgender Youth Join Forces to Develop the First Community-Based Care Model (In May of 2020). Medical Express is a company that specializes in medical information.
Autism and Gender Identity (June 2019). Autism Speaks is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about
Information Sheet for Parents of Autistic Children on Resources for Transgender/Gender Diverse Youth. (April 2019). Amaze.org.au.
At the Crossroads of Neurodiversity and Gender Differences (Updated September 2018). The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders is a publication dedicated to the study of autism and developmental disorders.
Why Do We Need to Respect Gender Diversity and Sexual Orientation in Autism? (November 2018). Spectrum.
Evidence of Autism Rates in Studies of Gender Diverse Individuals (Revisiting the Link). (Updated November 2018). The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s journal.
I’m not sure what the “gender expansive flag” is, but it looks like a pretty cool thing to have. It’s also nice that they have resources for gender identity and autism.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are gender resources?
A: Gender resources are a set of categories that help categorize and explain the different aspects of gender. They can be used to describe concepts, including but not limited to: gender expression, stereotypes about women/men, gender roles in society.
What are the 7 gender identities?
A: Lesbian, gay man, bisexual woman, heterosexual woman (or vice versa), transgender person of any gender identity.
How do you ask for gender identity?
A: What is the gender identity you would like to know?
- gender identity list
- gender expansive pronouns
- gender-expansive synonym
- gender identity test
- gender identity support
Janice is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Special Education. She also holds a Master of Science in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) from Queen’s University, Belfast. She has worked with and case managed children and youth with autism and other intellectual and/or developmental disabilities in home and residential setting since 2013.