In the first study of its kind, children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were found to be more inclined to wish they were the opposite gender than their counterparts with certain other neurodevelopmental disorders or children with no neurodevelopmental disorders at all. The desire to be the other gender — gender variance — is often associated with depression and high levels of anxiety.

John Strang devised the study conducted at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC. He and his research team worked with five groups of children between 6 and 18 years of age. The five groups were defined as:

  • No neurodevelopmental disorder (the control group)
  • Diagnosed with autism
  • Diagnosed with ADHD
  • Diagnosed with neurofibromatosis
  • Diagnosed with other neurodevelopmental disorders such as epilepsy

The research team used the Child Behavior Checklist for behavioral assessment. The checklist is one of the most often used tools to inventory behaviors during childhood and adolescence.

The autistic children were found to be 7.59 times more likely to wish they were of the opposite sex than those in the control group. Those in the ADHD group were 6.64 times more likely to wish they were of the opposite sex. There was no gender variance noted in the control group or in the other two groups with neurodevelopmental diagnoses.

The children demonstrating gender variance were found to have elevated levels of anxiety and symptoms of depression, with the ADHD children feeling anxiety and depression with the greatest degree of intensity. The research team suggests the very nature of ASD may minimize anxiety and depression in the autistic children. One symptom of autism is lack of awareness of social pressure and it might be the reason the autistic children demonstrating gender variance weren't struggling with it as much as the ADHD children.

In contrast, children with ADHD have difficulty controlling impulses. Struggling with gender issues in addition to the symptoms of ADHD may prove to be a challenge almost impossible to keep in check.

Strang suggests that the connection between gender variance and ADHD and ASD could be more than coincidence. He suggests that the variance could be interconnected with the disorders themselves. Making the association between gender variance and these two specific neurodevelopmental disorders could lead the way to improved diagnostics in the future. Another benefit of the study might someday include improved mechanisms for coping and adapting with the diagnosis for the child and his or her family and caregivers, too.

Source: Strang, J.F. et al. "Increased Gender Variance in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder." Archives of Sexual Behavior. DOI 10.1007/s10508-014-0285-3. Mar 12, 2014. Web. Mar 31, 2014.