Trans adults more likely to be autistic, researchers find The Times 08.08.20

The original article is here.

Transgender and gender-diverse adults are more likely to have autism diagnosed, a Cambridge University study has found.

The research shows that people whose gender identity does not correspond to the sex they were assigned at birth are three to six times more likely to be diagnosed as autistic than those whose gender identity matches.

Data from more than 600,000 adults was analysed by scientists at the university’s autism research centre. The researchers aimed to acquire a better understanding of gender diversity in autistic individuals to help to provide better access to healthcare and support.

The team used five datasets of participants who had provided information about their gender identity, and if they had received a diagnosis of autism or other psychiatric conditions such as depression or schizophrenia. Participants also completed a measure of autistic traits.

Across all five datasets transgender and gender-diverse adults were three to six times more likely to indicate that they had had autism diagnosed compared with cisgender individuals.

The study used data from adults who indicated that they had received an autism diagnosis but it is likely that many individuals who have the condition have not been given a diagnosis.

About 1.1 per cent of the population in Britain is thought to be on the autistic spectrum, suggesting that among transgender and gender-diverse adults it is 3.5 per cent to 6.5 per cent.

Dr Varun Warrier, who led the study, published in the journal Nature Communications. said: “This finding confirms that the co-occurrence between being autistic and being transgender and gender-diverse is robust. We need to understand the significance of this and identify the factors that contribute to the wellbeing of this group of people.”

Dr Meng-Chuan Lai, a collaborator on the study at the University of Toronto, added: “We are beginning to learn more about how the presentation of autism differs in cisgender men and women. Understanding how autism manifests in transgender and gender-diverse people will enrich our knowledge about autism in relation to gender and sex. This enables clinicians to better recognise autism and provide personalised support and healthcare.”

Overall, transgender and gender- diverse people are more likely to have had a mental health condition diagnosed, particularly depression, according to the study.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the autism research centre, and a member of the team, said: “Autistic individuals and transgender and gender-diverse individuals are marginalised and experience multiple vulnerabilities. It is important that we safeguard their rights to be themselves, receive the requisite support, and enjoy equality and celebration of their differences, free of discrimination.”

Last year a study led by Dr Steven Stagg, of Anglia Ruskin University, and published in the journal European Psychiatry, was one of the first to focus on people who identify as non-binary.

It found that 14 per cent of the transgender and non-binary group had had a diagnosis of autism, and a further 28 per cent reached the cut-off for an autism diagnosis, suggesting a high number of undiagnosed individuals. These figures were primarily driven by high scoring among those whose assigned gender at birth was female, supporting evidence that there is a large population of women with an undiagnosed autism spectrum disorder.