Exclusive data from Autism Parenting Magazine reveals close to 6% of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have some form of gender dysphoria.
Are people on the autism spectrum more likely to have gender identity confusion? This question is being posed more and more as gender dysphoria sees increased coverage in the media and people become more accepting of gender diversity.
Hoping to answer this question, Autism Parenting Magazine (APM) sent a survey to more than 160,000 email subscribers around the world, gathering exclusive insight into gender and autism.
A total of 72.4% of respondents identified themselves as autism parents, while the remaining participants were grandparents, full-time carers, teachers, therapists, doctors, or individuals on the spectrum.
When asked “Is your child struggling with their gender identity?” 5.7% of respondents answered “Yes”. When this is compared to DSM-5 data stating gender dysphoria is present in 0.005–0.014% of biological males and 0.002–0.003% of biological females globally, it does seem gender dysphoria is higher in the autistic community than in the general population.
Survey respondents who selected “Yes” were posed a series of further questions. 50% said that gender confusion started to present itself when their child was age 10 or older, 33.3% said signs appeared when their child was under five years old, and the remaining 16.7% selected age five to 10 years.
APM asked what pronouns these children prefer to use. A significant 17.6% said their child goes by the gender neutral pronoun “They”. A total of 59.6% confirmed their child goes by “He” or “She”, but only 17.6% of these have opted to use the pronoun they were assigned at birth. The remaining 5.4% of caregivers gave other responses (with many of these stating their child is nonverbal).
Only 4.5% of those surveyed administer puberty blocker medication to their child, but 20% stated they would consider using puberty blockers in the future.
APM’s final question was: “Do you know other families with autistic children experiencing gender dysphoria?” A significant 34.8% said yes—suggesting gender dysphoria in the autism community could be even higher than the survey suggests.
Professional opinions on autism and gender identity
APM went on to approach three autism experts for their opinions on the topic, asking whether they have professionally seen an increase in gender identity struggles among their clients.
“Definite increase in gender confusion”
Mandy Breslow LCSW, MS Ed is a licensed clinical social worker, a mom of two autistic sons, and has a degree in Early Childhood Special Education. She confirmed she has seen a “definite increase in gender confusion” among her autistic clients in their teens and twenties.
“They have such a difficult time figuring out who they are, with gender and sexuality getting thrown into that already full bag of things that all teen angst goes into. It stands to reason that, for someone on the autism spectrum who is already questioning their place in society, their gender identity and sexuality come into question too,” she explains.
“From my perspective, the gender identity question has become one of the things that teens look for. Just like they have to figure out their own style of clothes, neurotypical and neurodiverse teens now have to define themselves. This is even more of a struggle for neurodiverse kids, who already feel different from others.”
Breslow adds that mental health and medical professionals are asking young people more questions about their gender and sexuality—which means it is not surprising that more neurodiverse teens are questioning those topics.
“Progressive pressure being put on young people”
Dr. Carole Lieberman, MD is a board certified psychiatrist who has worked with autistic patients and defended people on the spectrum in lawsuits. She spoke strongly against the suggestion people on the autism spectrum are more likely than neurotypicals to have gender dysphoria.
“There is a growing interest in autism and gender identity because of the efforts of progressives to change all children’s gender identity. Many schools have been infiltrated to try to convince all kids to turn against the gender they were born with and become non-binary, trans, and so on,” she argued.
“They now have seized upon autistic children because they feel that children with autism are more easily swayed. Indeed, some children with autism are people-pleasers and, therefore, much more vulnerable to the propaganda that these progressives are spreading.”
“Autistic people are naturally more nuanced”
Sharon O’Connor, LCSW is an autistic psychotherapist who specializes in neurodiversity. In contrast to Dr. Lieberman’s opinion, she believes autistic people are naturally more nuanced than their neurotypical peers.
“Autism influences so many aspects of our being. It affects not only how we perceive and interact with the world around us, but also how we understand and express our own identities. As autistic voices become more prominent, the common threads of our individual experiences become clearer and easier to connect. We see now that there is a large overlap between the autistic and LGBTQ+ communities,” she explains.
“We might think of autism as a different type of operating system (similar to Mac or PC), and wired into that operating system seems to be the capacity for a different type of perception and understanding of gender. Autistic folks may be more likely to perceive their gender as more nuanced than simply male or female. Some may consider themselves non-binary, genderfluid, or genderless.”
Autigender: a new word for autistic gender identity
O’Connor adds that having a different relationship to gender and sexual orientation is quite common to the autistic experience. So much so that the word “autigender” was created to describe people who feel their gender identity is inextricably linked with, and influenced by, their autism.
“Some folks in the autistic community may also feel less influenced by the expected ‘norms’ of neurotypical culture, so variations in gender identity might be more openly expressed,” she continues.
“When an autistic child expresses questions or thoughts about their gender identity, listen with love, openness, and curiosity. It’s an opportunity for adults to learn more about the child’s experience of their world and of their own unique selves. With greater understanding comes a better ability to support kids for exactly who they are. It’s about unconditional love and acceptance, always.”