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ADHD, Autism Boosts Gender Identity Confusion in Children

Update Date: Mar 13, 2014 08:33 PM EDT

Kids with autism spectrum disorders or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are seven to eight times more likely to wish to be the other gender compared with their peers with no neurodevelopmental disorder.

Researchers said that this finding of gender variance held true when children with autism and ADHD were compared to those of other medical neurodevelopmental disorders like as epilepsy or neurofibromatosis.

Investigators said the latest study is the first to compare the rate of gender identity issues in children with specific neurodevelopmental disorders against typically developing children.

The latest study involved children between the ages of six and 18. Researchers said the participants were normal or had autism, ADHD, epilepsy, and neurofibromatosis. The study revealed that gender variance was about eight times more likely in participants with ASD, and approximately seven times more likely in participants with ADHD. However, there were no differences between children with epilepsy or neurofibromatosis, and the control group.

"From previous studies and clinical reports, we knew that children who presented with gender identity issues were more likely to have autism than would be expected just by chance, but we'd never looked at how common gender variance was in different developmental groups," John F. Strang, PsyD, a pediatric neuropsychologist at Children's National Health System, said in a news release. "What we saw was an over-representation of gender variance in kids with autism or ADHD. The next step for us is to understand what that might mean."

Researchers suspect that ADHD or ASD heighten risk gender variance because of their primary symptoms. They explain that kids with ADHD it may find it more difficult to hide their gender variant impulses.  Whereas those with autism are more likely to express their underlying gender variance as they have less awareness of social expectations.

The findings also revealed that kid with neurodevelopmental disorders and gender variance showed higher rates of anxiety and depressive symptoms compared to those with no reported gender variance.

"In our autism clinic we now ask questions regarding gender identity because we know it's not such an uncommon issue. We don't overemphasize it because it is a relatively small percentage of children overall, but we do want to make sure we're asking about it and providing children and families support when they need it," concluded Strang.

The study was published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior

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