According to a study released earlier this year, up to 3 percent of the nation’s youth identify as transgender. Research shows trans children benefit from early intervention, but just how young is too young to begin treatments like hormone therapy, or even surgeries? And how can parents be certain their child is transgender?
In response to these complicated questions, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued its first-ever policy statement on supporting transgender youth.
“The AAP guidelines sound quite reasonable,” says Lise Eliot, professor of neuroscience at Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University. “The point is to not fight your child on who s/he feels s/he is at the moment, gender-wise. The tricky thing, of course, is when it comes to prescribing hormones or consenting to surgery. Such treatments are cosmetically more successful if done earlier, but often compromise fertility. And given how psychologically labile teens are, it becomes challenging to know which individuals will remain permanently transgender, or how they'll feel about their fertility 10-20 years down the line.
“Gender and sexuality are confusing to adolescents, to all of us really, and there’s a concern that social trends are redirecting gay youth toward a trans identity, which can have undesired medical consequences if carried out to full treatment,” Eliot said.
Jennifer Leininger, program manager for the Gender and Sex Development Program at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago sees parents and kids every day who are struggling with these issues. “It’s hard to know the right thing to do,” she said. “Even parents who are in the LGBTQ community often report feeling underprepared or undereducated about this.” Lurie’s Gender & Sex Development Program was the first clinic in the Midwest to provide pediatric care to transgender youth and currently has a three-month wait-list.
“We have a multidisciplinary approach where patients receive care from physicians and mental health professionals,” said Leininger. “We’ve got the nation’s first trans-mentoring program, so that youth can see that you can be a successful transgender adult. We also offer a parent-mentoring group, teen social support groups and playgroups for younger children.”