2014 Nov 09: Saled Naveed: Link Between Autism and Gender Dysphoria?

As an Asperger/Autist I worry about some of the linkages that are taken as statements of incontrovertible truth by media, both social and the propaganda machine. One of those linkages has to do with autism and gender dysphoria. The below article states the problem well and links to various studies that illustrate the problem of linkage without adherence to the rules of research.

For some time, I’ve been watching as research emerges suggesting some link between autism and gender dysphoria (formerly termed gender identity disorder).  I worried about how the public would interpret the results of these studies.  I hope that the public will recognize that autism and gender dysphoria are distinct entities that may be merely associated.  And there’s only so much you can extrapolate for factors that are associated.  For example, every time I wear a condom the lights are off, but the lights have little to do with the condom.

Granted, there may be very limited causal inferences gleaned from the autism and gender-dysphoria link, but, in my opinion, and especially at this point, not much more.  After all, the researchers are using lower-power, bias-riddled studies to come up with causal explanations that are sometimes asymmentric (apply to men or women but not both). So, with all that being said, I throw my hat in the ring and give you my take on the underwhelming link between autism and gender dysphoria.

Defining autism and gender dysphoria

Let’s start with some basic definitions.

According to the CDC:

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.

According to the DSM-5:

For a person to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, there must be a marked difference between the individual’s expressed/experienced gender and the gender others would assign him or her, and it must continue for at least six months. In children, the desire to be of the other gender must be present and verbalized. This condition causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Gender dysphoria is manifested in a variety of ways, including strong desires to be treated as the other gender or to be rid of one’s sex characteristics, or a strong conviction that one has feelings and reactions typical of the other gender.

The research linking autism and gender dysphoria

To date, there have been only few lower-power systematic studies and case studies that associate autism and gender dysphoria.  For instance, in one British study conducted by Pasterski and colleagues, researchers examined 91 patients at a London-based gender clinic (63 male-to-female and 28 female-to-male) and found that, overall, 5.5 percent of transgender individuals exhibited autistic traits.  (According to researchers, the prevalence of autism in the general population is anywhere between 0.5 and 2 percent.)  In another study, Dutch researchers examined 204 children and adolescents (115 boys and 89 girls) with gender dysphoria and found a 7.8 percent prevalence of autism.  Finally, Simon Baron-Cohen (AKA Borat’s cousin), a researcher at the University of Cambridge, found a 2.3 percent prevalance of caseness (jargon for autism traits) in 840 college-age participants (454 men and 386 women).

Source: iStockphoto

In an admirable effort to overreach, researchers have suggested various causes that link autism and gender.

First, the Extreme Male Brain (EMB) theory suggests that prenatal exposure to an excess of androgens predisposes a person to later develop both gender dysphoria and autism.  In other words, an excess of male hormones in the womb influences a girl or woman to go on to develop a desire to be a boy or man and somehow infleunces this same girl or woman to develop autism.  Conspicuously, this “theory” fails to explain why male fetuses go on to develop gender dysphoria and autism. …………

The rest of the article may be read at Psychology Today



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