An explanation of why neurodivergencies are common among the LGBTQIA population
Diversity is a multifaceted reality that includes many marginalized communities. Common diversity includes the BIPOC, LGBTQIA and disability communities. There are intersections between all the aforementioned groups, but recently the focus has been on LGBTQIA intersectionality with neurodivergent individuals.
Intersectionality is an approach in which a researcher seeks to understand how different kinds of personal characteristics exert influence over people’s life experiences. Intersectional researchers attempt to avoid single-axis explanations that focus on one characteristic or identity at a time, such as gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, disability status, age and religion. Instead, they take these criteria and find how they connect and impact each other.
Neurodiversity encompasses an array of neurodivergencies such as Autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and bipolar disorder, among others. Researchers, advocates and organizations are exploring the links between the two communities to uncover why this intersection is common. While there are many opinions on the matter, this article will serve as one viewpoint on the topic of neurodivergent and LGBTQIA intersectionality.
Defining neurodivergent and neurodiverse
Before discussing the intersections in these communities, it is important to define the terms. Neurodiversity includes any cognitive, mental health and developmental classification of disability. For example, attention deficit disorder (ADHD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Autism are commonly associated with neurodivergence. In fact, any mental health diagnosis can classify an individual as neurodiverse.
Keep in mind, this article isn’t intended to argue the difference between a neurotype and a disability. The term neurodivergent is used from the perspective of an invisible difference in the human mind. The term neurodiversity is used to encompass all diagnoses that impact the functioning of an individual’s mental state.
Neurodivergence is becoming more common among the LGBTQIA community because the metaphorical dots are connecting through research and awareness of neurodiversity. In addition to mental health diagnoses, disabilities often intersect with various neurotypes in a way that might not be so visible at first glance.
Intersections seen within marginalized groups
There are many ways in which neurodivergent individuals may be intersectionally marginalized by both society at large and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. It is common knowledge that both the neurodiverse and LGBTQIA communities experience discrimination and stigma. Truly, the marginalization of these groups contributes to their classification as neurodiverse. Experiencing trauma alters your brain’s development. It changes the way you see the world, and hate crimes against persons that are LGBTQIA will cause PTSD.
Imagine that you have not come out to your family. Once you take this monumental step you are shamed, shunned and disowned. The feeling of abandonment can trigger mental health difficulties like anxiety and depression. Once this occurs you are part of the neurodiverse community. Dealing with the symptoms of PTSD, flashbacks, anxiety, depression and many other life-disrupting effects is seen in both communities.
Exposure to family rejection as well as other negative social messages and personal stressors can cause mental health challenges. Often it is forgotten that neurodiversity includes mental health challenges that are not related to developmental diagnosis. However, there is a clear intersection that is being explored by researchers between Autism and being LGBTQIA.
Autism is an intersection
According to the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, “the co-occurrence of autism/neurodiversity (A/ND) and gender-diversity (GD) has been highlighted in a series of international studies (pg. 2). There is an increase of gender diversity in the autistic community. The reason for this increase can be attributed to the increased awareness of the Autistic community. There are corresponding life experiences of both groups and it is reasonable to assume that the research will continue to uncover more commonalities between Autism and LGBTQIA communities.
The National LGBT Health Education Center published a report in 2020 on Neurodiversity & Gender-Diverse Youth which stated that “evidence suggests that neurodiverse people, particularly those on the Autism spectrum, are more likely to be gender diverse and have a lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or asexual sexual orientation, compared to neurotypical people (pg.5,6). One assumption is that since autistic people do not readily participate nor understand social norms they are more open-minded and willing to live their authentic life.
The research is ongoing and while there is clear intersectionality between autism and being LGBTQIA there is no definitive evidence that supplies an exact reason for this occurrence.
The reason intersectionality matters
Awareness and understanding of intersectionality improve the support available to marginalized communities. A person that is neurodivergent will have a different perspective on the world that cannot compare to a neurotypical outlook. When you add LGBTQIA to the mix, it changes the approach to support even more.
For example, when you are an LGBTQIA person with autism, you can be seen as experiencing two marginalized identities. Both identities are valid and need to be accepted by others. It is vital for individuals to self-reflect and become self-aware. The first step to happiness is recognizing the intersectionalities in your life. Self-acceptance will only have a positive effect on your future.
The only way that a person can live their authentic life is if you understand all parts of their life. Family and friends that are not accepting of diversity will impact the mental health and wellbeing of the neurodiverse individual. Rejection is felt differently by everyone and is life-changing. The lack of support for neurodiversity and the LGBTQIA communities is amplified by a refusal to accept intersectionality.
The first step to allyship is accepting each community and recognizing that intersectionality should impact your view of diversity. Everyone has parts of their life that are impacted by intersectionality, whether they are aware of it or not. Taking the time for self-reflection will only aid you in becoming an ally for the neurodiverse and LGBTQIA community.
Tas are autistic members of the disability community with developmental, mental health and physical disabilities. They are also a person of color and nonbinary, and proud to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community and a neurodiverse DID system. Since they are a unique combination of diversity, they advocate for inclusion. Equal access to education, healthcare, and innate human rights motivate them to move past challenges in the effort to make the world accessible, inclusive, and fair for the next generation.
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