On the Science of Changing Sex

Autistic Dawn

Posted in Science Criticism, Transgender Youth by Kay Brown on January 21, 2023

— Are gender dysphoric youth prone to being autistic. Or reversing that, are autistic children prone to being gender dysphoric? There has been some clinicians suggesting there is a connection. But does the data support that assertion? There is data that suggests that transmen (FtM transsexuals) do show more autism type characteristics but the data for transwomen is mixed. That is to say, that gynephilic transwomen seem to have the name level of such as control men, while exclusively androphilic (HSTS) transwomen show the same, lower, level as control women. Given that HSTS are far more likely to have been identified as gender dysphoric as youth, we would expect that such male children w/ gender dysphoria would NOT show elevated autistic traits.

But I was challenged on this prediction and given a citation for a 2015 paper by Van der Laan, et al., that purported to show that both male and female gender dysphoric children did show elevated autistic traits.

But did it? Let’s look at the data. The paper is available on SciHub as a downloadable pdf, so you may refer to Table 2. Here is where we begin to see something odd. The researchers do NOT have data on any Autisism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnoses nor have they used the clinically validated Autism Quotient (AQ) instrument as in other studies. Instead they have used only two items in a maternally scored checklist about “obsessions” and “compulsions”. These constructs only weakly map to ASD, and could map to other disorders… or no disorder at all. After all, one child’s “obsession” is another child’s hobby, or even just a keen interest. This alone brings the study’s value for our purposes to near zero. However, data is data.

Of the male children, 54% were scored as having an obsession with a (cross?) gendered theme. While of the sibling controls, only 13% were. Sounds pretty convincing doesn’t it? But is it? But of the controls, 87% were scored as having an obsession with a non-gendered theme. Gee… that doesn’t sound like these gender dysphoric youth were any more likely to have an obsession indicating a likely ASD. The rest of the data for the compulsions and for the female children is similar.

The authors appear to know that this may not reflect a propensity to ASD, as they note,

“Another possibility is that intense cross-sex interests are simply a manifestation of GD. Such interests may lead to a clinical presentation that is ASD-like but only superficially so because the intensity of the interests is due to the GD and not an underlying ASD. If such were the case, then few, if any, additional ASD features should accompany intense cross-sex interests. If few additional ASD features are present, then other circumstances that might influence such interests to be elevated should be considered. For instance, GD children may obsess about cross-sex objects and activities as a way of communicating their strong desire to be the opposite gender. When confronted with resistance about this desire, the child may react by further intensifying these obsessions and, hence, his or her communication of this desire.”

My snarky response is, “Ya think?!?”

Further Reading:

Autism and Transgender

Autistic Sky

Autistic Sunset


VanderLann, et al., “Do Children With Gender Dysphoria Have Intense/Obsessional Interests?”, JOURNAL OF SEX RESEARCH, 52(2), 213–219, 2015, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2013.860073

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