Is There A Link Between Autism And Being Transgender?

"This new research reminds us that gender incongruence is incredibly complex."

A study is raising questions about possible connections between being autistic and being transgender.

A report published in The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders looked at 61 transmen, 198 transwomen, 98 cisgender females, 76 cis males and 125 people with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism. Researchers looked for typical markers of autism, such difficulty in dealing with changes in routine and problems reading social signals.


According to researchers, trans men exhibited more autistic traits than cisgender men and women and trans women. (Only the Asperger’s patients outscored them on the Autism Spectrum Quotient.)

Cambridge professor Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, who led the study, believes people on the autistic spectrum may have “extreme male” brains—ones dominated by organizing predictable patterns.

A “female brain,” according to this theory, would be stronger in empathizing. (Baron-Cohen admits these are broad characterizations.)

Interestingly, testosterone, the male hormone, may play a key role—Baron-Cohen found that giving testosterone to women decreased their ability to empathize. And previous research has linked high levels of testosterone in the womb to autistic traits.

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Baron-Cohen says trans men he interviewed had already transitioned and were on testosterone, so it’s impossible to say whether they already exhibited the traits before transitioning or whether the hormones were a factor.

“This new research reminds us that gender incongruence is incredibly complex,” co-author Emma Martin, who is a trans woman herself, told Time. “Every possibility should be discussed with new clients, but should not delay what can be a painfully slow process for those affected.”

One NIH study found that 7.8% of children and adolescents who reported gender dysphoria had autism. That’s compared to 1.47% in the general U.S. population.

h/t: PsychCentral

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.