Study shows transgender individuals have higher rates of neurodiversity

3 ways the church can help those who are struggling

October 26, 2021

My mom, grandma, and I were shopping for clothes for my 9th birthday. For the first time, I had strong opinions about what I wanted to wear, and everything I liked was on the boys’ side of the store. That year, I had stopped going by my name and had asked my teacher and friends to call me “Tom” instead, as in “tomboy.” In 1988, that’s what girls who acted like boys were called. Everyone around me saw it as a phase I would grow out of, and in fourth grade, I did. Not because I fully accepted being a girl, but because I had to start wearing a bra. There’s nothing like puberty to convince you of the reality of your biology.   

As I grew up, I still felt more masculine in many ways than I did feminine, especially by cultural standards. I wanted to watch sports and hang out with my guy friends. I was very black and white in my thinking. I couldn’t figure out how to wear make-up. I never felt like I fit in when the girls talked about crushes or their feelings or what I considered to be “drama.” And if I was part of a group, I took charge. It all made me feel different from most of the girls I knew. 

As I grew into my 20s and 30s, I figured out why I always felt like an outsider. All the characteristics that didn’t make sense to me finally did when I learned more about neurodiversity and characteristics of those with autism, dyslexia, and ADHD. I found myself on this spectrum, understanding that the quirks I tried to hide and overcome were, in God’s sovereignty, a part of who I was.

As God told Moses in Exodus 4:11, “Who placed a mouth on humans? Who makes a person mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go! I will help you speak and I will teach you what to say” (CSB). Although disabilities are a result of the fall, God uses them in our lives to produce Christlikeness. They weren’t part of his original plan for humanity, but they are part of his plan for 1 in 5 people now. But even as we (rightly) normalize disabilities and neurodiversity, we can’t let society convince our young people that their neurodiversity is tied to a mistake in their gender identity.  

Recent study finds connection between transgender identity and neurodiversity

If my shopping trip had taken place in 2021 instead of 1988, many would peg me as transgender. I would have been tempted to classify myself in that way instead of coming to understand that I was on the neurodiversity spectrum. That’s why a recent study caught my attention. This study, released in 2020, found “elevated rates of autism, other neurodevelopmental and psychiatric diagnoses, and autistic traits in transgender and gender-diverse individuals.” Journalists explained, 

“People who do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth are three to six times as likely to be autistic as cisgender people are, according to the largest study yet to examine the connection [641,860 self-reported individuals]. Gender-diverse people are also more likely to report autism traits and to suspect they have undiagnosed autism.”

The study’s findings that relate to girls and young women held particular interest for me. There are many characteristics that are true of neurodiverse girls that are typically associated with being masculine — especially during the school years. These include:

Considering that girls often receive autism diagnoses later than boys, it’s likely that a young girl who identifies with these traits may be more tempted to think of herself as being transgender because of the differences she is struggling with, rather than considering she might be neurodiverse. She likely — in light of the frequent conversations that occur in culture and social media where so many girls spend their time — knows more about society’s acceptance of a spectrum of gender identification divorced from biological sex than the spectrum of neurodiversity. As she’s figuring out what these differences in her personality mean for her personhood, it can be a very confusing time for the struggling girl and her family, especially as the world’s answer to gender confusion is embracing transgender ideology.

There’s an opportunity for the church to support and encourage these families during this confusing season. We need to draw near, not push them away because we are unsure of what to do. 

How can the church respond? 

Numbers and studies report facts, but they don’t tell the full story. They can tell us what, but they can’t always tell us why. So when we read studies like the one cited above, we must look through our biblical lens, beyond numbers and profiles to see the people represented. How can we draw those who believe they are both neurodiverse and transgender into a relationship with their Creator, the lover of their souls? How can we show them their biological design is for their good? Here are three ways to start: 

First, avoid teaching gender roles and expectations that aren’t biblical. If a girl can’t see herself on the checklist of biblical womanhood she hears at church, our society gives her one option — she isn’t a girl. But we can see spectrums of femininity and masculinity within the gender binary. We can teach those spectrums to our children while staying faithful to gender differences.

On Saturdays, I drop off my teenage son at musical theater rehearsal and come home to watch football. Our interests, skills, and even appearances don’t change our God-given sex. There is beauty and purpose in our diverse expression.  

Second, welcome those who are neurodiverse. If a family has a member with autism, they are eight times less likely to attend church than a typical family. And surveys show it’s even less likely for adults with autism to attend church. Churches should take steps to be more welcoming to those with autism and other disabilities, breaking down barriers to the gospel and to inclusion in the church family. (Read: “How special needs inclusion changes the culture of the church” for more on the topic of accessibility). We need to show the children and teenagers in our church families that they don’t have to fit into behavioral boxes to be accepted. It’s okay to struggle with social skills, sensory input, or even reading out loud. Church should be a safe place to be yourself in the years when you’re figuring out what that means.  

Finally, offer stronger community ties than other tribes. What did I want more than anything as I was struggling? To fit in; to have a group of people who accepted and even celebrated me for who I was. This is a common theme for people who “come out” and are affirmed by the LGBTQ community or those who receive a diagnosis of autism and join a group of people trying to make sense of what that means. Both these communities, for different reasons, are tightly knit and committed to those who identify with them. But the ties that bind us together as Christians are even stronger than what ties other groups together. 

According to Galatians 3:28, we are called to prioritize our relationships as children of God, as brothers and sisters, above other labels we have, “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This doesn’t erase who we are; it just shows us our primary identities. 

I’m thankful for studies that show us opportunities for love and action for those who often don’t look to the church first for acceptance. I am who I am today because my parents and church continued to accept me, give me opportunities to be myself as I grew and learned what that meant, and pointed me to God’s design in his Word. I look at girls in our youth group and see so much of myself in them when they struggle with their identities and even possible diagnoses. I can point them to a God who created them with care for every detail and with a purpose for each trait and quirk, and I can show them that being a part of a church family that loves you is even better than the communities the world tries to provide.

Pray with me for those who are neurodiverse and being convinced they are also transgender. And let’s all work to point them to the hope we have in Christ and the fellowship we have as believers.  

Sandra Peoples

Sandra Peoples (M.Div.) is a special needs mom and sibling. She and her family live outside of Houston, Texas, where she serves her church as the inclusion coordinator for Special Needs Families. She also serves the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention as their special needs ministry consultant. She’s the author … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24