Autism, Pride, and How to Support an LGBTQ+ Child
What is Pride?
June is known as Pride Month, a month dedicated to celebrating the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer+ (LGBTQ+) community. Throughout this month, we are encouraged to uplift the voices, celebrate the culture, and support the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
Pride Month began by honoring the Stonewall uprising in 1969, a historical moment for the LGBTQ+ community. In June of 1969, the police raided The Stonewall Inn in New York City, a common safe place for the LGBTQ+ community. The community fought back against the police for several days and nights, leading to a movement to outlaw discriminatory laws and practices against LGBTQ+ people.
The Intersection of Neurodiversity and LGBTQ+ Status
Gender, like autism, exists on a non-linear spectrum. This means that gender is not a line with one option on either end and some variations in the middle, but rather a diverse wheel with multitudes of options and possibilities. As we learn more about the variations of gender and neurodivergence, we see strong spectrum overlaps.
Research suggests that neurodivergent people are more likely to be gender diverse and have a lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or asexual sexual orientation. A study by the University of Cambridge found that autistic adults and adolescents are approximately eight times more likely to identify as LGBTQ+. There are many possible reasons for this, including a difference in how autistic populations perceive social norms and feel less pressure to present a certain way. Some hypothesize that autistic people also may come to conclusions about their sexual identities differently than their neurotypical peers or feel more comfortable experimenting with different means of expression.
Sexuality is Not a Symptom
Because of this strong connection between neurodivergence and LGBTQ+ status, many families and health care professionals may be unaware or mistaken by a child’s gender diversity and sexual orientation. Research finds that caregivers and providers see gender identity and sexual preference differences as a “symptom” of their autism. This wrongly attributes natural self-expression as something that can be “cured” or “overcome” with treatment. Qualitative research and clinical experience provide insight into the unique experience of gender and sexual orientation for neurodivergent youth.
These youth often experience a sense of urgency around affirming their gender identity.
For some, gender identity is an area of active exploration and fluidity. These youth may fluctuate in how they define, and how strongly they emphasize, their gender identity.
Non-binary gender identification is common in both autistic and neurotypical individuals.
Increasingly, clinicians and researchers are seeing a correlation between gender diversity and neurodiversity among adolescents and young adults (National LGBT Health Education Center, 2020). These findings have strong implications for the healthcare and support of autistic individuals. Healthcare workers who work with autistic patients may want to talk to their patients about their gender and sexual identities. They should always ask about pronoun preferences and keep in mind ways in which heteronormativity shows up in therapy and counseling spaces. Likewise, autistic individuals who are gender diverse may express their identities in different ways than their neurotypical peers or not fit the standard boxes of LGBTQ+ labels as defined by non-autistic people. Healthcare professionals can help autistic people navigate their gender identity and sexual expressions to better serve their experience as a part of the LGBTQ+ community and their ability to access gender-affirming care.
We’re All Learning
Learning about Pride Month, LGBTQ+, etc. can be a new and exploratory topic for many. It might be difficult to keep track of new terms you come across as you educate yourself to better support your LGBTQ+ child. Here are some words and acronyms that are common in LGBTQ+ spaces:
LGBTQIA and “+:” Stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual. The “+” stands for other identities such as pansexual, gender fluid, and many more.
Gender Diverse: A person whose gender identity, including their gender expression, goes beyond what is perceived as gender “normal”, usually within the binary of male and female.
Transgender: A person whose gender identity of gender expression is different than what they were assigned at birth.
Queer: An umbrella term for people who are not heterosexual or cisgender.
Sexual Orientation: A pattern of sexual attraction to people of the same sex, opposite sex, both sexes, or more than one gender.
Non-binary: A person that doesn’t identify as a male or female.
Intersectionality: An analytical framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities come together to create different means of discrimination and privilege.
How can I support my LGBTQ+ Child?
Many parents and caregivers struggle to know how to respond when their child comes out or questions their sexuality or gender identity. Research shows that familial support can make a major difference in a child’s mental and physical health. Supportive family members can help build self-esteem and a positive sense of self in gender-nonconforming individuals. There are many ways to support your LGBTQ+ child both in the home and in your community.
Don’t push your child to talk about their gender or sexual identity before they are ready. Give them space to come out to you when they feel comfortable sharing.
Create a safe space where your child feels comfortable being and expressing their authentic self.
Always ask your child what you can do to be more supportive or create a better environment for them to thrive.
Ask your child’s preferred pronouns and correct those who misgender them. This includes friends, family, and members of your community.
Educate yourself on LGBTQ+ community issues, stereotypes, and terminology.
Connect your child with resources to support them, such as youth groups, extracurriculars, or LGBTQ+ centers.
Why should Pride matter to me?
As a parent or guardian, open conversations about Pride and the LGBTQ+ community can save a life. Take some time to bring these topics up with your child, because you never know what you both could learn. The intersection of neurodiversity and being part of the LGBTQ+ community is very strong and can cause a lot of emotional distress if ignored or left unaddressed. Being open to these conversations can reduce stress and dysregulation around these topics. You can be a stronger advocate for your child or another child, when so often neurodiverse people are left behind.
You can find additional tips on how to be a good ally, how to manage your feelings on the matter, and more here: https://www.additudemag.com/gender-identity-adhd-supporting-children/
You can also find resources here: https://pflag.org/about
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Cortica
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are the heart of Cortica's mission and impact. Our commitment to these values extends from the workplace to each child, family, and community we serve. We strive for a culture that seeks to nurture self and group identities while cultivating empathy and respect for differences. We are committed to learning and growing within our mission to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment. Every day we strive to improve our practices in how we educate, create, and implement change. We welcome you to join us on our journey, the most valuable resource we have is each other. This blog post is an initiative from the DEI Committee at Cortica in collaboration with Alyssa Salter.
Diversity: The range of human differences includes but is not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, and social class.
Equity: The process of recognizing that advantages and barriers exist that create unequal starting places and addressing & mitigating the imbalance.
Inclusion: The act of making a person part of a group or collective, where each member is afforded the same rights and opportunities.
“As we learn about each other, so we learn about ourselves.” – William Hartnell
All Cortica centers are LGBTQ+ safe spaces.
Here are some additional resources to learn more and get involved in the autistic LGBTQ+ community.
Their mission is to provide community, support, and resources for autistic women, girls, transfeminine and transmasculine nonbinary and genderqueer people, trans people of all genders, Two-Spirit people, and all others of marginalized genders.
Created by autistic people to enable families with autistic children, and autistic individuals to get out into the community and socialize in an accepting, inclusive environment with like-minded peers. We provide support and advice to families and individuals, promote acceptance of autism through education of the general public, and protect autistic rights by campaigning against autistic mistreatment.
Seeks to advance the principles of the disability rights movement regarding autism. ASAN believes that the goal of autism advocacy should be a world in which autistic people enjoy equal access, rights, and opportunities.