What is intersectionality?
Intersectionality is a term that describes how an individual can experience a variety of identities. Being autistic might form a major part of your identity. Race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender are all different areas which may also form a variety of identities for you. For example, you may identify as being autistic but you may also identify as being a member of the black community and the LGBTQ+ community. Having these different identities means that you will experience the world different to other people. It is important to have a good understanding of your own identity and be proud of what makes you you.
Autism and LGBTQ+
In recent years it appears that a large portion of the Autism community also identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community. One of the reasons for this frequent co-occurrence may be that autistic people are less tied to societal expectation and are more open and honest about expressing who they are. As our society progresses we have become more understanding of minority groups like the LGBTQ+ community and the stigma surrounding this community is gradually reducing. Today it is great to see that children are becoming much more open and accepting of their peers who are slightly different regardless of whether that is related to a condition they might be diagnosed with, such as being autistic or their race or sexuality.
How can I support those who identify as autistic as well identifying as transgender?
Having the right supports available can have a life-changing effect on people. People might not need professional therapy to feel supported. Often having the full support of your friends and family is all that an individual needs to feel confident in their identity. If a child or teenager is understood and listened to in the right way with understanding and kindness it has the potential to make a huge difference in their lives. Being open, accepting and supporting those who identify with minority groups is the best way that you can support them.
As a parent it can be scary at first if your child identifies as transgender. Unfortunately, autistic transgender people can often face barriers because of their autism in having their identification as transgender taken seriously. It is very important that you do not tell someone who is autistic that their identification as transgender is “a phase” or “just their autism”. Parents want what’s best for their children and want them to be happy. It can be worrying that your child will not be accepting in society if they identify as part of a minority group such as being transgender. The best thing you can do for your child is to let them know that they are accepted and loved for who they are.
Sometime professionals might worry that they are not qualified to support those who identify as autistic and transgender. They may feel as though while they understand how to support autistic people, that the additional identification is outside of their professional competencies. But like all professional support, the most important factors are listening to people, respecting what they’re saying and linking them in with the right people who might know more about these issues.
As a parent, what should I do if my child expresses to me that they are transgender?
The first thing you want to do if your child confides in you that they are transgender is keep the communication open. You do not want your child to feel ashamed or embarrassed that they have chosen to come to you for support. Act calmly and express a calm interest. Thank them for trusting you. If you feel like you don’t know much about the transgender community maybe you could ask them to recommend sources of information and express interest in learning more. Remember, gender is fluid. It is not static. So things can change. Your child might change their identification. Just be open, accepting and ensure your child knows that you will love and support them no matter what. If you are finding this news difficult, take some time for yourself to process the information and begin to do some research to help you come to terms with it. The most important thing that you can do is at all times let your child know that you will love and accept them, and will always love and accept them, for who they are, irrespective of what gender they are.
Autism and Race
Autism can affect people of any race. There is a perception that autism is only seen in white people, which causes challenges in relation to the inclusion, assessment and support for autistic people who are members of other races. Unfortunately, sometimes for members of the black community or from Asian cultures may not be diagnosed as autistic as easily as a member of the white community. Sometimes people of non-white races who are demonstrating classic autism ‘traits’ might be diagnosed with a behavioural difficulty or a mental health difficulty. Autism and race is something that needs to be spoken about more openly. Today there are more and more black autistic advocates speaking about their experiences and hopefully, in the future, there will be more awareness for issues relating to autism and non-white races. Sometimes, other cultures may not have an accurate understanding of Autism which can lead to families not picking up the signs that their child might need additional support. Additionally, if English is not your first language it can make the diagnosis process a little more difficult. However, do remember that the HSE will provide a translator for you during the diagnostic assessment process if necessary.
Autism and the Travelling Community
As a marginalised group, autistic members of the Travelling community might not be diagnosed as easily as those in non-marginalised communities. In Ireland unfortunately the Travelling community culture is not well understood. The Travelling community in Ireland is highly stigmatised and may feel as though they will not be supported in the assessment process for autism or after receiving a diagnosis. Remember that supports are in place for everyone regardless of your membership to any marginalised or minority groups.