London, England, Jul 18, 2019 / 16:30 pm
A new study suggests a link between autism, autistic traits, and identifying as transgender or non-binary, raising new questions about the growing use of so-called “gender transition” procedures as a treatment for gender dysphoria.
The study, which was released July 14 and will appear in the September issue of the academic journal European Psychiatry, was led by Dr. Steven Stagg of Anglia Ruskin University in the United Kingdom. The study examined 177 people who identify as transgender, non-binary, or as the gender of their biological sex.
A person who identifies as “non-binary,” which is also referred to as “genderqueer,” identifies as neither male nor female or on the male/female binary. A person who identifies as transgender identifies as the opposite sex than their biological sex. A transgender person may opt to undergo cross-sex hormonal or surgical treatments in order to better resemble the gender with which they identify.
Of the 177 people studied, four percent of those identifying their gender with their biological sex were diagnosed with autism. For the transgender or non-binary group, that figure rose to 14%. An additional 28% of the transgender or non-binary group exhibited traits that would result in an autism diagnosis, which the authors of the study say could mean that autism is potentially being underdiagnosed, particularly among girls.
Among the autistic traits identified by Stagg were a difficulty in empathizing, as well as “an overreliance on systematic, rule-based reasoning.”
"One of the striking findings was the number of individuals born female who met the cut off for autism spectrum disorder. This is particularly important given that individuals born female are twice as likely to be referred to gender identity clinics,” said Stagg.
In England, girls make up 74% patients at the country’s only gender clinic for minors, Tavistock. In 2019, more than half the patients referred to Tavistock were under the age of 14. Data has shown that 2.8 girls are referred to Tavistock for every boy.
"People with autism are also more likely to seek unequivocal answers to the complex issues surrounding gender identity,” said Stagg. Given that the study also suggested that autism is underdiagnosed in girls, this could be contributed to the percentage of girls seeking gender reassignment.