Transgender expert to speak at Calif. gender conference

Lifelong interest in trans issues and autism led psychologist to pursue work with youth

Crystal A. Proxmire

When Dr. Antonia Caretto, Ph.D, was just a teenage tomboy, she met a lesbian who transitioned to becoming a male. Recalls Caretto: "This sparked my interest in the similarities and differences between gender non-conformity and sexual orientation."

She went on to study psychology and did her dissertation on transgender issues, titled Familial Homosexuality Among Women and Its Relationship to Gender Role Non-Conformity in Childhood and Adult Sex Role. Now, the Farmington Hills resident is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in autism and gender issues, and is preparing to fly to Berkeley, Calif., to present her work with autistic, transgender youth at the fourth annual Gender Spectrum Family Conference, which takes place Sept. 3-6.

The conference was started by Stephanie Brill, co-author of "The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals," to educate families with transgender children and the professionals and therapists who work with them. In addition to many informative classes, there will be activities for the kids like a pool party, daycare and camp.

The theme of this year's conference is Empowering Advocacy. There are traditionally programs like "Medical Issues 101," "Dad's Group" and "Legal Rights."

Caretto's involvement will cover both of her specialties: autism and gender identity. "I will be doing a 90-minute workshop on Gender Incongruence in Children and Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum," she explains. "Autism spectrum includes things like Asperger's Disorder, which is a condition in which an individual has great difficulty with social skills and communication with others. They have very specific topics that they are interested in and can talk endlessly or engage in that behavior for hours and hours, perhaps never noticing that the other person is bored. They are not mentally retarded and may have a huge vocabulary, but no clue how to have a conversation or take turns. They are rigid about having routines and hate change."

Caretto adds that while her workshop seems to have a narrow topic, it's not as uncommon as it may seem for children to be both autistic and transgender.

"There have been many anecdotal reports of people with gender identity disorder also having Asperger's, but until recently there has been no research to support or refute that belief."

She shares that a study published this month reported that the rate of autism spectrum disorders among children and adolescents with gender identity disorders was eight times what would be expected by in the general population.

"In my workshop I will summarize the research findings and lead a discussion about 'what does this mean?'" she adds. "I suspect I may meet families with horror stories about their child being misdiagnosed or denied services and rights based on a diagnosis. I hope to find out from them and other professionals in attendance what we need to do in light of this huge co-occurrence. This has major implications when we think about helping a teen transition and fit in socially as their affirmed gender."

Caretto is one of a few therapists locally who works with children with gender identity disorders. She has attended conferences on the topic in London and Chicago, and has spoken about the topic for a number of groups, including Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and the Michigan Sexual Health Certificate Program. She is also a member of World Professional Association for Transgender Health, and spends much of her time networking to find physicians who are willing to provide hormone blockers and contra-gender hormones to children with GID.

For more information on Dr. Caretto's services, visit http://www.BeTreatedWell.com. For more information on the Gender Spectrum Family Conference, visit http://www.genderspectrum.org.

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