The study has important implications for the clinical management of biological girls with gender incongruence that persists into adulthood.
The researchers measured autistic traits using the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) and compared AQ scores from transmen; transwomen (male-to-female); typical males; typical females; and individuals with Asperger Syndrome (AS, a form of autism). They found transmen had a higher average AQ than typical females, typical males and transwomen, but lower than individuals with AS. The findings are published today in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Professor Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre, interpreted the results:
“Girls with a higher than average number of autistic traits tend to have male-typical interests, showing a preference for systems over emotions. They prefer not to socialise with typical girls because they have different interests, and because typical girls on average have more advanced social skills. Both of these factors may lead girls with a higher number of autistic traits to socialize with boys, to believe they have a boy’s mind in a girl’s body, and to attribute their unhappiness to being a girl.”
Rebecca Jones, who led the study with Professor Baron-Cohen, added:
“If such girls do believe they have a boy’s mind in a girl’s body, their higher than average number of autistic traits may also mean they hold their beliefs very strongly, and pursue them to the logical conclusion: opting for sex reassignment surgery in adulthood.”
Dr Domenico Di Ceglie, a world expert on gender incongruence in young people from the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, and a member of the research team, commented:
“The awareness of the presence of autistic features may help these young people to explore the reasons behind their perceptions, and help them make more informed decisions about treatment.”
Professor Chris Kennard, Chairman of the MRC’s Neuroscience and Mental Health Board which funded the research, said:
“Autism is an important area of research because the spectrum of disorders affects so many people. The Medical Research Council is committed to supporting research into all the possible underpinnings of conditions associated with human brain development, including autistic spectrum disorders.”
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