We might have reason to believe that there is a connection between Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and gender dysphoria, according to science. This possible link was first brought to light in the 1980’s when a study noted that 10% of the participants, all of whom had been diagnosed with ASD, had trouble answering a question regarding their personal gender identity. Since 2010, at least nine large scale studies have been conducted regarding this subject matter and found that traits of autism were prevalent in 5%-54% of those with gender dysphoria.
Several different hypotheses have been proposed to explain the heightened link between gender identity and autism spectrum traits. Some researchers have suggested that the increased rates of ASD might be a product of social stigma against transgender expressions. For example, since transgender people experience very high rates of prejudice and discrimination, their aversion to social situations could serve as a self-protective response, thus artificially inflating their levels of autistic traits. Another possibility is that ASD children are just as likely to experience gender dysphoria but are more likely to express it explicitly because of their limited ability to understand social cues and realize they might get stigmatized by others for it.
On the other hand, the increased rates could be a real phenomenon. It is possible that some of the psychological characteristics common in children with ASD—including cognitive deficits, tendencies toward obsessive preoccupations, or difficulties learning from other people—complicate the formation of gender identity. It is also possible that there are common biological factors (for example, genetic predispositions, exposure to atypical levels of prenatal testosterone and other hormones, or environmental toxins) causing both ASD and gender dysphoria.
For more information on the potential relationship between ASD and gender dysphoria, read my latest Forbes piece!
What are your thoughts on this science? Let me know in the comments below!