For the study, researcher John Strang, Psy.D., of the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., analyzed data from children between the ages of six and 18. The kids either had no neurodevelopmental disorder, or were diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or a medical neurodevelopment 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, according to the researcher.
Compared to the control group, gender variance was found to be 7.59 times more common in children with ASD, according to the study’s findings. It was also found 6.64 times more often in children with ADHD. No difference was noted between the control group and participants in the other two neurodevelopmental groups, Strang noted.
The kids who wished to be another gender had elevated rates of anxiety and depression symptoms, the researcher reported. However, the rates were lower among children with autism spectrum disorders. This is possibly due to their impaired social reasoning, which makes them unaware of the societal pressures against gender nonconformity, the researcher hypothesized.
The new study supports previous studies that have shown increased levels of behavioral problems and disruptive disorders among young people with gender variance, the researcher noted.
“Navigating a child’s gender variance is complex for children and families. The presence of neurodevelopmental disorders makes diagnostics, coping, and adaptation even more challenging,” he said.
“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,” said Strang, who suggested that the coincidence of gender variance with ADHD and ASD could be related to the underlying symptoms of these neurodevelopmental disorders.
“Children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders may be less aware of the social restrictions against expressions of gender variance and therefore less likely to avoid expressing these inclinations,” he said.
“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.”
The study was published in Archives of Sexual Behavior.