Autism & Pride: Some Food For Thought
Updated: Jul 6, 2021
by Katherine Greene, Evolve Coaching Intern
Happy Pride month, everyone!
Something that scientists, activists, and autists themselves have begun to discuss online is the seeming correlation between being on the autism spectrum and being LGBT+.
According to the University of Cambridge’s Autism Research Center, transgender and gender diverse adults are three to six times more likely than their cisgender peers to be diagnosed as autistic. One study by John Strang of the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. looked at it from the other direction. Strang investigated gender identity in a sample pool of Autistic youth, and found that the kids in question were 7.59 times more likely than the general population to express what he called “gender variance.” Eileen Crehan of Tufts University notes that, among people with autism, “Most of the data that we’re seeing is that [the LGB rate] is two to three times higher.”
For those of us who are LGBT+, are Autistic, have Autistic or LGBT+ loved ones, or are just curious about biology, this raises the question: what’s behind this correlation? A quick and dirty analysis of the available literature seems to divide into two main camps.
One school of thought is that similar genetic factors and/or in-utero hormone exposure are connected to both autism and being LGBT+. However, it’s a new area of study and the evidence linking autism and being LGBT+ to these factors is sparse.
The other school of thought leans less heavily on the assumption that autistic people are more likely to be LGBT+ and speculates that they might just be more likely to be out. As the Asperger/Autism Network (AANE) describes it, “Individuals on the Autism spectrum tend to be less influenced by or responsive to societal expectations or constraints…This natural inclination to be oneself and not follow the crowd or societal norms, seems to correlate with a higher than average incidence of individuals on the spectrum having greater variance and flexibility in the areas of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.” As vaguely flattering as that might be, it’s necessary to keep in mind that it’s only speculation at this point.
Regardless of the links scientists may discover in the coming years, we at Evolve hope you’ve been enjoying pride month!
Here’s some further reading on the topic:
Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Asperger/Autism – The Asperger / Autism Network (AANE)
The Link Between Autism and Trans Identity - The Atlantic
Why are a disproportionate number of autistic youth transgender? (slate.com)
Transgender and gender-diverse individuals are more likely to be autistic and report higher autistic traits | University of Cambridge
SPARK for Autism | Autistic People More Likely to Identify as LGBTQ
High levels of estrogen in the womb linked to autism -- ScienceDaily