Autistic Characteristics in a Nationally Representative Clinical Sample of Adolescents Seeking Medical Gender-Affirming Treatment in Norway

J Autism Dev Disord. 2023 Dec 6. doi: 10.1007/s10803-023-06181-6. Online ahead of print.


Purpose: Several studies have reported on the intersection of autism and gender incongruence (GI) in clinical populations. This study aims to investigate autistic characteristics and registered autism spectrum diagnoses (ASD) in a clinical cohort of 83 adolescents referred to the National Gender Team for Children and Adolescents in Norway during 2020.

Methods: Parents completed the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS). Background information and registered psychiatric diagnoses were extracted from patient files.

Results: The results showed that 25% of the participants scored within the clinical range on the SRS: 27.4% of adolescents who were assigned female at birth (AFAB) and 19.0% of adolescents who were assigned male at birth (AMAB). AFAB had significantly higher scores on SRS Total Scale and the Social Motivation and Autistic Mannerisms subscales compared to the female norm group. AMAB had higher scores on the Social Motivation subscale and lower scores on the Social Awareness subscale, compared to the male norm population. Information from patient files revealed that 67.5% had one or more registered psychiatric diagnosis. 9.6% had received an ASD diagnosis, all AFAB. 18.1% had received an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis. The most common psychiatric diagnoses were depression (25.3%) and anxiety disorders (18.1%). Further, 44.6% had a history of self-harm, and 15.7% had a history of a suicide attempt.

Conclusion: The results showed an overrepresentation of ASD diagnoses and autistic characteristics measured by SRS for AFAB. There was an overrepresentation of psychiatric diagnoses for both the AFAB and the AMAB group in this study sample. Implications for treatment and future research are discussed.

Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder; Gender dysphoria; Gender incongruence; Social responsiveness scale.