The LGBTQIA+ Intersection with Neurodivergents

Zach Weisheit, Staff

Neurodivergent – variation from neurotypical brain function, characterized by atypical sociability, learning, attention, behavior, etc. Those who are neurodivergent may have conditions such as ASD, dyslexia, ADHD, OCD, dyspraxia, epilepsy, Tourette Syndrome, etc.

Some research has been put into the idea that the gender spectrum and the ASD spectrum intertwine (ASD: autism spectrum disorder, or autism for short). There is a hypothesized connection between autism and neurodiversity because autistic people are not able to connect with themselves or others. Consequently, they may feel disconnected from traditional society, their assigned gender, and those who are cis (cis: to identify with the gender you were assigned at birth). People with ASD may feel little to no societal pressure to perform under the gender construct and take the liberty to freely identify as they choose, or feel that they do not fit into the gender binary because they are inherently different from those who are cis and allistic (allistic means to not be autistic, a neurodivergent person can be allistic and still have another neurological brain disability).

According to the Applied Behavior Analysis Program, the first diagnosed case of autism was in 1943 with a boy named Donald Triplett. He was initially put in a mental institution before being diagnosed by Leo Kanner. The condition has since been identified for at least 50 years. The first appearance of non-binary terms or ideas was in 400 B.C in India, referenced to in ancient Hindu writings, as read in the Non-Binary Healthline. So it is very evident that these concepts and diagnoses are not new, irrelevant, or unheard of ideas and concepts.

Gender fluidity and ASD are both broad spectrums. You have at least seven gender identities, not including cis. These identities include transgender, non-binary, genderfluid, genderqueer, bigender, agender, intersex, and more. A common misconception among cisgender people and LBGTQIA+ people is that gender and pronouns are the same. This is not true. Pronouns do not equal gender. Someone who is cis might use they/them pronouns or a variation of pronouns (including neopronouns). And, non-binary people do not always exclusively use they/them pronouns, but they do not identify as cis. Because pronouns do not equal gender, their pronouns could be a combination of neopronouns, but also he/she/they. 

Another common misconception is that sex and gender are the same, just interchangeable words. However, sex and gender are not the same. Sex relates to the scientific meanings of male or female, sex only being what you were physically born, not what you identify as. Gender is not the same because it is about identity, not genitalia or appearance. 

How do we know that the ASD community is vastly diverse when it comes to expression and gender identity? According to Spectrum News, some estimate that around 25% of the gender diverse individuals are autistic, and in the Netherlands, nearly 15% of autistic adults are trans/non-binary identifying. But found in Spectrum News on the autism sex ratio, women are later diagnosed while men are typically diagnosed at much younger ages than women. 1 in every 42 males are diagnosed with ASD, while only 1 in every 189 females are diagnosed. But more AFAB individuals identify as non-binary than AMAB people do, so does this skew the gender-diverse research or the concept that men get diagnosed sooner or faster than women? (AFAB: assigned female at birth, AMAB: assigned male at birth)

So why are people with ASD likely to identify outside of the gender binary? People with ASD may be more likely to miss the social construct of a gender construct (and other constructs like this one), and thus, they may be more gender diverse compared to a group of allistics. Being on the spectrum, one might feel a great disconnect to others and oneself. Identifying comfortably might help stabilize and ground oneself or help connect with others. The gender spectrum and autism spectrum evidently overlap quite vastly.

A disconnect from others and traditional gender roles displays a complex relationship with society and gender for autistic people. Not being totally comfortable in the black and white construct of “girl or boy” may cause one to challenge the toxic gender construct, identifying with whatever makes one comfortable while simultaneously combating harmful and outdated stereotypes and ideals of men and women. This creates the need for fluidity, true identification, and comfort for a member of a marginalized group.

Those with autism are some of the most diverse groups of people on the planet according to recent studies done in 2018 and 2019 from Spectrum News on neurodiversity and gender fluidity. Gender and sexuality further help people with ASD set themselves aside from the rest of the world.