There exists a noticeable trend between neurodivergence and queerness: statistically, neurodivergent folks are significantly more likely to identify as LGBTQ+ than their neurotypical counterparts. A 2008 study found that individuals with ADHD identify as bisexual at a higher rate than neurotypicals (Barkley, Murphy, & Fischer, 2008). A 2020 study demonstrates a correlation between gender variance and autism: of 247 autistic women interviewed, only half identified as cisgender. From the same group, only 8% reported being heterosexual (Dattaro, 2020). The evidence is clear: there is a demonstrable overlap between neurodivergence and reported queerness. This is not to say that neurodivergent people are actually more likely to be queer than neurotypicals, but rather that they are more likely to be open about it.

But how can this be explained? Some speculate that because neurodivergent folks can struggle to understand, and therefore conform to, societal expectations, they are more likely to express themselves authentically without worrying about judgement. Alternatively, some claim that many members of the neurodivergent community already feel socially isolated, so don’t feel the need to conform to society’s expectations. Some evidence suggests that individuals with ADHD are more likely to engage in novelty-seeking behaviour; that is, behaviour that stimulates excitement in response to novel stimuli. Both queer and neurodivergent people experience prejudice, inequality, and discrimination, and those who belong to both communities experience this two-fold. This is the experience of a multiple minority.

The lack of concern for, or awareness of, established societal structures could contribute to an explanation for increased reports of variation in both gender and sexuality within the neurodivergent community. A study by the National LGBT Health Education Center concludes that “Evidence suggests that neurodiverse people are more likely to be gender diverse and have a lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or asexual sexual orientation, compared to neurotypical people One possibility is that neurodiverse people tend to be less aware of, or less susceptible to, societal pressures and gender norms; therefore, they can express their gender identity or sexual orientation without concerns of being judged or fitting into certain roles.” (National LGBT Health Education Center, 2020). The world is largely designed for neurotypicals, and because of this, many neurodivergent people feel as though they do not belong. As such, some may feel that they would rather live life by their own standards, rather than those set for them by society. Alongside this, some neurodivergent people are not as acutely aware of societal expectations of heterosexuality and gender conformity, meaning they feel more free to be open about their identity.

Impulsivity is a characteristic associated with ADHD. Behaving impulsively, unconstrained by inhibitions, may lead to experimentation with gender identity and sexuality, which may in turn result in a greater understanding of self (ADHD Institute, 2021). Alongside this, it is generally agreed that there is a correlation between ADHD and novelty-seeking behaviour. Park, Suh, Lee, and Lee assert that this “may increase the likelihood of same-sex sexual experiences” (Park, Suh, Lee, & Lee, 2016). Actively seeking out novel experiences such as same-sex encounters – and enjoying them(!) - may contribute to increased reports of homosexuality and bisexuality in the neurodivergent community.

It doesn’t appear that there exists a single explanation for higher reported rates of variance in gender and sexuality in the neurodivergent community. Rather, there are a number offactors that could help us to understand why members of this community are more likely to identify as queer. It is important to recognise that increased reported rates of queerness among neurodivergent folk results in an increased risk of social isolation, prejudice, and discrimination. Because of this, it is important that we keep working to make the world more accommodating for neurodivergent people, and safer for queer people.

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“What sets you apart can sometimes feel like a burden and it’s not. And a lot of the time, it’s what makes you great.”

Emma Stone