Wishing to be another gender: Links to ADHD and autism spectrum disorders

Wishing to be another gender: Links to ADHD and autism spectrum disorders

Children and teenagers with an autism spectrum disorder or those who have attention deficit and hyperactivity problems are much more likely to wish to be another gender. So says John Strang of the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC, USA, leader of the first study to compare the occurrence of such gender identity issues among children and adolescents with and without specific neurodevelopmental disorders. The paper is published in Springer's journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Children between 6 and 18 years old were part of the study. They either had no , or they were diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a medical neurodevelopmental disorder such as epilepsy, or neurofibromatosis. The wish to be the other gender, known as gender variance, was assessed with the Child Behavior Checklist, one of the most commonly used behavioral report inventories for children and adolescents.

Compared to the control group, gender variance was found to be 7.59 times more common in participants with ASD. It was also found 6.64 times more often in participants with ADHD. No difference was noted between the control group and participants in the other two neurodevelopmental groups.

Participants who wished to be another gender had elevated rates of anxiety and depression symptoms. However, these were lower among participants with autism spectrum disorders. This is possibly due to their impaired social reasoning which makes them unaware of the societal pressures against gender nonconformity.

Strang and his co-workers' study is the first to report on the overlap between ADHD diagnosis and coinciding gender variance. It supports previous studies that have shown increased levels of behavioral problems and/or disruptive disorders among young people with gender variance.

Navigating a child's gender variance is often complex for children and families. The presence of neurodevelopmental disorders makes diagnostics, coping, and adaptation even more challenging.

"In ADHD, difficulties inhibiting impulses are central to the disorder and could result in difficulty keeping gender impulses 'under wraps' in spite of internal and external pressures against cross-gender expression," says Strang, who suggests that the coincidence of gender variance with ADHD and ASD could be related to the underlying symptoms of these neurodevelopmental disorders.

Strang continued, "Children and adolescents with may be less aware of the social restrictions against expressions of gender variance and therefore less likely to avoid expressing these inclinations. It could also be theorized that excessively rigid or 'black and white' thinking could result in such a child's rigidly interpreting mild or moderate gender nonconforming inclinations as more intense or absolute."

More information: Strang, J.F. et al (2014). Increased Gender Variance in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Archives of Sexual Behavior. DOI: 10.1007/s10508-014-0285-3

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study uncovers why autism is more common in males

Feb 27, 2014

Males are at greater risk for neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), than females, but the underlying reasons have been unclear. A large cohort study published by Cell Press on February 27th ...

Adopted children missing out on mental health treatments

Jan 22, 2014

Common disorders, such as ADHD or conduct disorder, are being 'grossly under-identified' amongst adopted and fostered children, according to a new study by King's College London. Instead, clinicians are over-identifying ...

Recommended for you

Intervention program helps prevent high-school dropouts

Oct 24, 2014

New research findings from a team of prevention scientists at Arizona State University demonstrates that a family-focused intervention program for middle-school Mexican American children leads to fewer drop-out rates and ...

Bilingualism over the lifespan

Oct 24, 2014

It's a scene that plays out every day in Montreal. On the bus, in schools, in the office and at home, conversations weave seamlessly back and forth between French and English, or one of the many other languages represented ...

User comments