What is the intersectionality between LGBTQIA+ and autistic identities? In a recent episode of the Child Nexus podcast, “Diverse Thinking Different Learning,” The Help Group’s Dr. Laurie Stephens, Sr Director of Autism and Clinical Programs, discusses growing research on this overlap and what she has experienced through her own work as a therapist with the LGBTQIA+ and autistic communities.
While still in its nascency, research has pointed to upwards of a 25% increase in the likelihood of autistic people identifying as gender diverse (e.g. trangender, non-binary, gender fluid) when compared to non-autistic individuals—and even that number is likely low. “We must keep in mind when we’re looking at the LGBTQIA community, it’s most likely underreported. There is still, unfortunately, a stigma associated with identifying as LGBTQIA; so, the numbers of true intersection are going to be higher.”
Touching on the research, Stephens explains there is one popular theory that has gained traction in past months: since many autistic people are seeking authenticity and don’t believe in hiding who they are, they may be somewhat less likely to hide their gender diversity. She states that autistic individuals are not always as influenced by societal norms, and it’s possible these individuals don’t necessary think in a binary way; thus, they are more willing to share their identity as gender diverse.
She continues, “The idea that boys wear blue and girls need to wear dresses—there’s no evolutionary reason for this. A lot of autistic people are fighting for authenticity. ‘Stop telling me I need to be neurotypical. I’m okay not being neurotypical.’ The more they’re advocating for being who they are as an autistic person, the more freedom they have to say, ‘I’m gender diverse and you need to accept this aspect of me, too.’”
Later on in the podcast, Stephens discusses having a dual minority status—identifying as autistic while also being gender diverse. She explains that there is a lot of overlap between identifying as both things—and historically, people who identified as LGBTQIA or autistic felt the need to “mask” a lot of who they were. “That’s also what drives the high mental health difficulties which we now are found in both the gender diverse and autistic population,” she says, adding that having just one affirming person in your life can reduce suicidality by up to 60%.
Stephens has been instrumental in founding The Help Group’s Kaleidoscope program, which provides an affirming and safe community to those who identity as both LGBTQIA and gender diverse. The program is local to California, but it resources and advocacy programs are offered online.
Listen to the full interview with Laurie Stephens.
To learn more about kaleidoscope, visit: www.kaleidoscopelgbtq.org