New research on sexual minority autistic adults

Research shows sexual minority autistic adults experience poorer mental health and quality of life

July 21, 2023
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A recent study, published in Autism in Adulthood and supported by an Autism Speaks postdoctoral fellowship grant, examined the mental health and quality of life of sexual minority autistic adults. In the study, the term "sexual minority" referred to individuals who identified with sexual orientations other than heterosexual. Results showed that these adults reported poorer mental health and lower quality of life compared to heterosexual autistic adults.

The study gathered data from 651 autistic adults aged 18 to 83 years through Simons Powering Autism Research (SPARK) Research Match. Participants completed surveys online, which included measures of mental health symptoms, perceived stress and subjective quality of life. The study compared the responses of sexual minority autistic adults to heterosexual autistic adults to examine potential disparities in mental health and quality of life.

The study found significant differences between sexual minority autistic adults and heterosexual autistic adults. The key results include:

  • The prevalence of sexual minority identities among autistic adults (41.2%) is higher compared to the general population, where approximately 4% of individuals report a sexual minority identity.
  • Sexual minority autistic adults reported higher levels of depression, anxiety and perceived stress compared to heterosexual autistic adults.
  • Sexual minority autistic adults reported lower quality of life across various domains, including physical health, psychological health, environment and quality of life. They experienced increased physical pain and less energy as well as reported concerns with healthcare, transportation and safety in their neighborhoods.
  • Preliminary exploratory analyses suggested that gender minority autistic adults who identified as any gender other than heterosexual or straight reported higher levels of mental health symptoms and lower quality of life compared to autistic adults who identify as the same gender as presumed at birth.

The study provides valuable insights into the intersection of sexual orientation and autism, an area that has received limited research attention. By exploring the experiences of this population, the study fills a gap in understanding the intersecting identities and social stressors faced by autistic individuals, shedding light on the potential factors contributing to mental health disparities and lower quality of life.

These findings highlight the importance of considering the diverse needs and experiences of sexual minority autistic adults. This knowledge can inform the development of targeted interventions and support systems to improve the overall well-being of autistic people. However, it is important to acknowledge the potential limitations of the study, such as the cross-sectional design and the need for further research to explore additional factors that may contribute to these disparities.