recently, at a forum to which i belong for parents of transgender kids, there has been a flurry of threads concerning ‘sensitivities’, sensory integration disorder, ocd and autism. being the parent of a child who is autistic and transgender, and experiences these things, my curiosity was piqued. i wanted to read what these other parents had to say. even more so, since i have read research that indicates a co-morbidity between autism and gender identity issues: research that has shown that children with autism present with gender identity dysphoria at a rate that is 10 times higher than that of the neuro-typical population.
autism is known to have some genetic components. identical twin studies and familial clusters of the condition have shown this to be true. a number of genes are suspected to play a role in this, tho none have been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be the culprit. gender identity dysphoria occurs at a rate that suggests a genetic component as well. and perhaps the higher ratio of autistic people who are also transgender being researched more intently will yield answers as to the underlying causes of both. who knows?
that being said, classifications of autism and gender identity dysphoria have both been in the news lately, because of controversy over how to present them in the brand spanking new DSM 5. on the one hand, the guidelines for an autism diagnosis are being refurbished, badly…in ways that would exclude the diagnosis for some who are now covered by it.
from personal experience with the american health system, i know how this can affect services approved by medi-caid, and probably other insurers. conversely, the very name used to describe transgender people makes the condition a mental pathology, which is not only an inaccuracy, but an open invitation for the system and the society to demonise folk for what will likely in the future be conclusively proven to be a medical condition, as it is even now considered to be, by cutting edge experts.
classification can be tricky. linaeus’ system for classification of life forms, for example, was very useful, and is in use to this day. altho with a few updates. but separating creatures into kingdom, phylum, family, genus and species could never have told us that two of the primates in the animal kingdom, humans and chimpanzees, share all but 2% of their dna…phenotypically we are drastically different, but on a genetic level, sooooo close!
some of the parents posting threads in the above mentioned forum seemed to equate autism with inability to speak, or with severe mental deficits. they took issue with others who mentioned that sensory integration disorder and ocd are often associated with autism. for some of the parents only the ‘rain-man’ level of ability constituted autism.
but autism is a spectrum disorder. there are those who are at the lower functioning end of the scale, those at the higher functioning end of the scale and a thousand shades between the two extremes. just as there are varying degrees of gender identity dysphoria. ( altho, i would argue that for ziona she has body part dysphoria, she is fine with her gender identity of being a girl…she’s uncomfortable with the body parts that belong to a boy.)
when trying to classify things there is often a tendency to use either too fine or too broad a brush. straining at a gnat to define who is or isn’t autistic overlooks those who don’t fit the assigned pattern and can result in reduced benefits. broadly stating that anyone whose body doesn’t align with their gender identity is mentally ill results in further stigmatisation in a society where there is quite enough of that already (thank you very much), and furthermore is simply untrue.
neither is it merely a case of you say tomato, i say tomahto.
some quidelines may be necessary in order to create benefit and opportunity, but none should ever be instituted that might rob the person defined thereby of these.