More men and boys are currently diagnosed as autistic than women and girls. Find out about the gender ratio and the theories that try to explain it. We also look at gender identity - your sense of self as a man, woman, non-binary or something else – and gender dysphoria.

Are men more likely to be autistic than women? An overview of diagnosis rates

Various studies, together with anecdotal evidence, suggest that the ratio of autistic males to females ranges from 2:1 to 16:1. The most-up-to-date estimate is 3:1.

In Leo Kanner's 1943 study of a small group of autistic children, there were four times as many boys as girls.

Hans Asperger thought no women or girls were autistic, as described in Autistic psychopathy in childhood (1944), but he changed his mind later.

Lorna Wing found in her 1981 paper on autism and sex ratios in early childhood, that among people with a diagnosis of 'high-functioning autism' or Asperger syndrome there were 15 times more men and boys than women and girls, while in autistic people with learning difficulties, the ratio of men and boys to women and girls was closer to 2:1.

In a much larger 1993 study of Asperger syndrome in mainstream schools in Sweden, Ehlers and Gillberg found a boy to girl ratio of 4:1.

Brugha's 2009 survey of adults living in households throughout England found that 1.8% of men and boys surveyed had a diagnosis of autism, compared to 0.2% of women and girls.

In 2015, the ratio of men to women supported by The National Autistic Society’s adult services was approximately 3:1, and the ratio of boys to girls in our charity’s schools was approximately 5:1.

In a 2017 study, Loomes and other researchers analysed existing prevalence studies and found that the male-to-female ratio was nearer 3:1.

Why are more men diagnosed as autistic? Theories to explain the gender split

There are various theories that might explain why more men and boys get an autism diagnosis.

Gender identity

Gender identity and biological sex are different things. 

People are usually assigned a gender at birth according to their genitalia – male or female. 

How someone feels about their gender is known as gender identity. Some people identify as the gender they were assigned with at birth, others don’t.

Some people may be born male, but identify as female. Some may be born female but identify as male, or people may identify as neither female nor male. Some people may feel both male and female at different times. We all express our gender in different ways, for example in how we dress and act. 

People may experience discomfort or distress when their assigned gender is different from the gender they identify with – this is known as gender dysphoria (GD).

There is some evidence to show a link between gender dysphoria and autism, and that autistic people may be more likely than other people to have gender dysphoria. However there is little evidence about the reason(s) why, and some recent research suggests the link between autism and gender dysphoria is not so clear. More research is needed.

More research is also required to develop and test assessment tools, support and treatment for autistic people experiencing gender dysphoria. One study, from 2016, sets out specific clinical guidance for autism and gender dysphoria in adolescents

Below we highlight some professional practice and personal viewpoints.

Further information and support

Remember that the links on this page are not officially connected to our charity. They are here as suggestions for you to explore, but we cannot endorse or officially recommend these websites. Please review as much information as possible when making decisions. 

Gender Dysphoria - NHS.

Gender Identity Clinic – The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust

Stonewall - What's in my area?

Stonewall’s Glossary of Terms - the terms used to describe gender identity and sexuality 

Mermaids UK – a gender non-conformity awareness raising charity, which supports transgender children, young people and their families as well as the professionals who support them.

GIRES, Gender Identity Research and Education Society.

Young Minds has some guidance for parents supporting a child with gender issues, though it is not tailored to autistic young people.

Search our Knowledge Centre for books and articles on women and girls on the autism spectrum and watch interviews with autism experts at Network Autism.

Access our Women and Girls online training module.

Critiques of the extreme male brain theory of autism:

 Last updated: 8 August 2019