Gender and Sexual Diversity
Multiple studies have shown that gender diversity and gender dysphoria occur more often in autistic individuals. ‘Gender diversity' is a broad term that is often used to discuss gender expression and identity that differ from traditional cultural expectations of “male” or “female.” Currently, ‘gender dysphoria’ is a diagnosis used by clinicians for someone who identifies as a different gender than their sex assigned at birth and who is also experiencing distress. However, it is important to note that not everyone who is exploring their gender identity has a formal diagnosis.
Sexuality in autistic individuals has also been found to be more varied than in neurotypical individuals. Research studies have shown also that a higher percentage of autistic individuals identify as lesbian, gay, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) than the general population.
Individuals who experience gender dysphoria and/or identify as LGBTQ are also at heightened risk for mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression. Studies have found that autistic youth experience even higher levels of mental health problems and are more likely to engage in self-harming behaviors and/or have suicidal thoughts. Autistic youth are also more likely to face difficulties accessing gender-affirming care.
Some core characteristics of ASD including difficulty with flexible thinking, expressing emotions, communication, and executive functioning may make it more difficult for your child to share their challenges and/or advocate for themselves.
How Can You Help Your Child?
- Support and listening is very important. Children need parents and other families to listen to their challenges. Respect and support their attempts at advocating for themselves is also essential. You can provide support by advocating for your child to health professionals, educational personnel, and peers.
- Use preferred pronouns. Using your child’s preferred pronouns fosters a feeling of acceptance.
- Given the higher rate of gender diversity in autistic individuals, frequent assessment of gender variance should be assessed. If your child is experiencing gender dysphoria, it is important to talk about this with their health providers. This is important in planning for treatment and therapies.
- Monitor mental health symptoms and find appropriate supports/providers for gender diverse and autistic youth.
- Collaboration between autism specialists and gender care providers is essential to support your child throughout the process.
University of Colorado Anschutz Campus Programs
- Birds and Bees: An 8-session parent-only education group that focuses on strategies and support for caregivers of autistic pre-teens and teens through puberty.
- True Center for Gender Diversity: The TRUE Clinic, which stands for Trust, Respect, Understand, Emerge, is the only clinic in the Rocky Mountain area that is specifically set up to serve gender-diverse youth, adolescents, and young adults. Providers work on a multidisciplinary team and provide a range of services including puberty-blocking medicines, hormone therapy, gender counseling, and nutrition.
Other Helpful Resources
- Consent for Kids by Rachel Brian
- SEX by Heather Corinna
- The Autistic Trans Guide to Life by Yenn Purkis and Wenn Lawson
- The Every Body Book by Rache Simon