Empathising and Systemising in Adolescents with Gender Dysphoria

Domenico Di Ceglie, Elin Skagerberg, Simon Baron-Cohen, Bonnie Auyeung

Abstract


Background: Recent studies have highlighted the co-occurrence of gender dysphoria (GD) in adolescence and Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC). Systemising and empathising are two psychological dimensions linked to ASC. People with ASC score below average on the Empathy Quotient (EQ) and average or above average on the Systemising Quotient (SQ). Based on the results of previous studies we predicted that if the young people with GD shared aspects of the ‘broader autism phenotype’, their EQ would be lower, and their SQ would be the same or higher, compared to controls of their natal gender. 

Methods: This preliminary study examined systemising and empathising in adolescents with GD using parent report questionnaires. 35 parents of adolescents with GD aged 12-18 attending the Gender Identity Development Service (London) took part. Parents of 156 typically developing adolescents aged 12-18 were used as a control group. The parents were asked to complete the Adolescent EQ and SQ. 

Results: The mean EQ score of both the female-to-male, and male-to-female GD group was found to be significantly lower than typically developing females, but similar to that of control males. There was no significant difference on the SQ between the gender dysphoric groups and either female or male controls. 

Conclusion: This study shows that on average adolescents with GD, specifically those who are female-to-male, have lower empathy than controls. For this group of adolescents it may be helpful to offer psychological interventions that improve their communication skills and their ability to take on board other people’s views, to support their development. This may enable them to make better informed decisions regarding treatment and physical intervention options during adolescence and beyond.


Keywords


empathising; systemising; gender dysphoria; Autistic Spectrum Conditions

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