Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)


Social Work

First Advisor

Caroline Shanti, PhD, LCSW

Second Advisor

Rachel Casey, PhD, MSW

Third Advisor

Heather Shattuck-Heidorn, PhD


A significant body of clinical research has demonstrated that neurodivergent individuals are more likely than neurotypical individuals to have transgender and/or gender expansive identities (Janssen et al., 2016; Strang et al., 2014; Warrier et al., 2020). Within this body of research, neurodivergence and transgender identities are commonly mutually pathologized. Existent medico-psychiatric literature has been found to describe neurodivergence and transgender identities as “co-morbidities” and hypothesizes neurodivergence as a “cause” of transgender identity (Shapira & Granek, 2019, p. 506). A small but growing body of clinical, sociological, and theoretical scholarship has demonstrated the importance of non-pathologizing approaches to mental and physical healthcare for this population, the complexity of neurodivergent and transgender identity construction, and the importance of intra-community solidarity (Egner, 2019; Oswald et al., 2021; Strang et al., 2020). However, little is known about individuals’ internal experience of this phenomenon. iv The present study utilizes hermeneutic and queer phenomenology to explore transgender and neurodivergent individuals’ experiences and understandings of gender identity and neurodivergence, connections drawn between gender identity and neurodivergence, experiences within broader LGBTQ+ community, and experiences accessing gender-affirming, medical, and mental healthcare. Participants who identify as both transgender and neurodivergent were recruited via social media and 13 individuals took part in the hour-long semi-structured interview process. Five essential themes emerged from the data: (1) fluid and expansive identities, (2) relationality and identity development, (3) connections between gender and neurodivergence, (4) diverse experiences within LGBTQ+ community, and (5) experiences within the healthcare system. Participant gender and neurodivergent identities were found to be fluid, and identity development and expression were found to be informed by relationships and social dynamics. All participants drew at least some connections between their gender identities and neurodivergence. Participant experiences within the broader LGBTQ community included both those of inclusion and exclusion. Finally, participants did not report ableist discrimination in gender-affirming care settings. However, all participants reported experiencing transphobia in healthcare settings. Implications for social work education and practice are presented as well as directions for future research