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Transgender and gender-diverse adults are three to six times more likely as cisgender adults (whose gender identity corresponds to their sex at birth) to be diagnosed as autistic, according to a new study by scientists at the University of Cambridge’s Autism Research Centre.
This research, conducted using data from over 600,000 adult individuals, confirms previous smaller-scale studies from clinics. The results were published in Nature Communications.
The team used five different datasets, including a dataset of over 500,000 individuals collected as a part of the Channel 4 documentary “Are you autistic?”.
Strikingly, across all five datasets, the team found that transgender and gender-diverse adult individuals were between three and six times more likely to indicate that they were diagnosed as autistic compared to cisgender individuals. While the study used data from adults who indicated that they had received an autism diagnosis, it is also likely that many individuals on the autistic spectrum may be undiagnosed. As around 1.1% of the UK population is estimated to be on the autistic spectrum, this result suggests that between 3.5% and 6.5% of transgender and gender-diverse adults are on the autistic spectrum.
Transgender and gender-diverse individuals were also more likely to indicate that they had received diagnoses of mental health conditions, particularly depression, which they were more than twice as likely as their cisgender counterparts to have experienced. Transgender and gender-diverse individuals also, on average, scored higher on measures of autistic traits compared to cisgender individuals, regardless of whether they had an autism diagnosis.
Dr Varun Warrier, who led the study, said: “This finding, using large datasets, confirms that the co-occurrence between being autistic and being transgender and gender-diverse is robust. We now need to understand the significance of this co-occurrence and identify and address the factors that contribute to well-being of this group of people.”
The study investigates the co-occurrence between gender identity and autism. The team did not investigate if one causes the other.
Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge
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