Today I am writing this article because I feel like we are entering a new era of acceptance and awareness. This era appreciates diversity. There is still a long road ahead. But, fifteen years ago, few people could even define the word transgender. Now, it is a part of our national dialogue. My hope is that this blog helps bring support to those who have a dual identity of autism and LGBTQIA+.
Individuals on the Autism Spectrum Are More Likely to Identify as LGBTQ+
Researchers noticed that individuals who identify as autistic or as having autism traits are more likely to identify as LGBTQ. Especially, women with autism. Here are some interesting research findings:
- Among individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), an estimated 42–69% identify as same-sex attracted or a sexual minority (Byers et al., 2012; George & Stokes, 2018b). One study estimates that between 42-69% of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder identify as same-sex attracted or as a sexual minority (LGBTQ+) (Byers et al., 2012; George & Stokes, 2018b).
- 15-35% of individuals with ASD who are labeled as “high-functioning” reported a sexual minority identity (Pecora et al., 2016).
- Women with autism are more likely to be in a same-sex relationship than women with TD, and all participants with ASD reported more same-sex attraction, more varied sexual identities, and more asexuality (DeWinter et al., 2017).
Research in this subject is relatively new. So it’s too early to speculate on possible reasons why there is a correlation. But, this research is important. It helps mental health professionals, educators, health care professionals, and parents create adequate plans for talking to children with ASD about gender, sexuality, and related topics.
Why Research in the Intersection in This Area is So Important:
A common misconception surrounding autism is that neurodivergent individuals are unable to express love and intimacy. This assumption is dangerous because it’s simply not true. When this is assumed, parents and professionals interacting with autistic individuals may ignore important conversations about intimacy, gender, and sexuality. This leaves children and teens confused and vulnerable.
Coming out as LGBTQIA+ is frightening for most individuals. However, for individuals with ASD, this can be extremely anxiety-producing. Especially if they struggle socially or have experienced frequent rejection and bullying.
Double Minority Status
In my clinical work, I get the privilege to work with incredible autistic individuals every day. In fact, I spend the majority of my day with neurodivergent people. And, as a therapist, I am in a special position to hear the difficult things my clients experience. My clients with autism share that they experience discrimination every day for being autistic and for not fitting in with the norm.
When my clients also identify as LGBTQIA+, they may struggle even more. They express distress about the added burden that can come from a double minority status (identifying as both autistic and LGBTQIA+).
Research has discovered the double minority effect. This is "the psychological state created when two devalued identities interact to influence the individual in a way that is greater than the sum of the independent effects of those identities." In fact, double minority status had been linked to higher mental distress and poorer well-being (Chiang 2017). Also, research shows that minorities experience chronic stress from prejudice. They also experience discrimination and are at a greater risk of physical health problems.
What Parents and Professionals Can Do to Support Neurodiverse Individuals Who Identify as LGBTQIA+
I understand how mental health and medical problems are more complex if you have a minority profile. For example, identifying as autistic, LGBTQIA+, and a racial minority (BIPOC) or religious minority, etc. And, I can see how a person in this position would be faced with constant microaggressions and macroaggressions. Perhaps, they feel chronically unsafe being themself in public and possibly even in private. Especially if their loved ones are not accepting of their identities. Anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem are natural consequences of being in this position.
I recognize in myself the need to become better educated in ways to support my LGBTQIA+ clients on the autism spectrum. I wholeheartedly believe differences should be deeply valued and celebrated. Though, many of my clients do not experience this level of openness or acceptance in their everyday lives. I think it is crucial for neurodivergent people who identify as LGBTQIA+ to engage in communities comprised of people who can relate to them and provide a deep sense of validation. And for those family members, friends, and providers of neurodivergent individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+, it is our responsibility to learn how to create a more accepting and safe space for them to thrive.
The Importance of Finding a Safe Community
As a parent or professional, it’s important to find safe spaces for your neurodivergent teen or adult, to feel a sense of community support. In looking for support, teens and adults with autism may be particularly vulnerable to victimization because of their trusting nature and challenges interpreting body language, sarcasm, and social cues.
If you feel like your child or the child in your care is at an elevated risk for victimization it’s extremely important to have conversations with them as soon as possible (even earlier than you may think necessary). Be their advocate and offer them a safe space and resources to explore their gender and sexuality.
As an autism therapist who cares deeply about the mental health of individuals on the spectrum, I felt compelled to create a place where individuals on the spectrum can come together and discuss their challenges without fear of retribution or judgment. That’s why I created a course through my other business, Neurodiversity School LLC, that is specifically for individuals on the spectrum who identify as LGBTQ. This course will help you navigate the particular challenges you experience. Furthermore, it will also offer you access to a community discussion board to speak with other individuals who identify as autistic and LGTBQIA+.
Want to learn about our e-courses, webinars, and online membership communities?
Our sister company, Neurodiversity School, is launching soon!
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Autism Therapy in California
If you’re on the autism spectrum and looking for support in the state of California, we also offer a variety of autism therapy services designed to fit your unique needs. At our therapy office, we do not discriminate against a client based on their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Furthermore, our highly skilled and well-trained team of autism therapists is constantly learning new ways to support our clients who are experiencing the struggles of living as a double minority.
Begin Online Autism Therapy in California or Sign Up to Learn More about Neurodiversity School:
- Contact us for a free phone consult.
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- Sign up for our newsletter.
If you do not live in California but are looking for support and a community of neurodiverse peers, then taking an e-course with our sister company Neurodiversity School may be the perfect fit for you. To get started, follow these steps:
- Sign up for our newsletter
- Check your inbox for more information
- When the website launches, take the quiz and find out what course is right for you or your loved one!
Other Services offered at Open Doors Therapy:
Our autism therapy clinic located in the South Bay Area serves teens and adults on the autism spectrum. We help high functioning individuals who identify as having Aspergers, high functioning autism, undiagnosed ASD traits, and their families.
Right now, we are providing all our autism counseling services online. Our autism therapists offer a variety of counseling services including individual counseling for autistic teens and adults, parent counseling, and group therapy. Also, we run several different social skills groups for neurodiverse working professionals, college students with autistic traits, gifted youth & caregivers, neurodiverse adults, women who identify as neurodiverse, a summer social skills college transition training program for youth transitioning to college, teens & caregivers, and a mothers group. Contact our autism therapy office for more information on our services or to schedule a consultation.
About the Author
Dr. Tasha Oswald is a trained developmental and clinical psychologist. She is also is the founder and director of Open Doors Therapy, a private practice specializing in autism therapy services in the South Bay Area, near San Francisco, CA. Dr. Oswald specializes in helping neurodiverse teens and adults and facilitating social skills groups.