Pacific Professor Provides More Insight on Gender Identity Issues in Children

Laura Edwards-LeeperWhat should a parent do if their child says they are transgender?

Pacific University professor Laura Edwards-Leeper, a clinical psychologist and nationally cited expert on gender identity issues, provided keen insight in response to the question on a recent edition of Science Vs., a critically-acclaimed podcast that challenges firmly held beliefs from a scientific perspective.

Edwards-Leeper is one of three health experts who appeared on "The Science of Being Transgender," which sought to explain what factors determine a person's gender, the idea of gender itself and the feelings some have when their physical characteristics conflict with how they feel.  

Despite an improved understanding of transgender people's needs and experiences within the medical community, only recently has the condition been removed as a mental health disorder by the World Health Organization. The condition remains in the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders.

Edwards-Leeper was the first clinician in the U.S. to conduct psychological assessments for transgender adolescents seeking medical interventions. She has assessed and worked with approximately 500 young people and their parents over the past decade and currently oversees a partnership between Pacific's School of Graduate Psychology and Legacy Health's Oregon T-Clinic.

Edwards-Leeper said there has been a tendency in prior research to lump all children with gender identity issues together, when in fact, individuals are more likely to have a unique set of feelings and circumstances. Equally important, she added, is that not all gender diverse people are transgender, and a one-size-fits-all approach can complicate matters rather than help.

The key when working with children, Edwards-Leeper says, is to support them in living as their most authentic self, which can include giving them the freedom to do what is comfortable to them, like picking the kinds of clothes to wear and what interests to pursue.

"Let them pick a name that feels right for them and allow them to use whatever pronouns — he, she, they — that they want to identify themselves," she added.

Edwards-Leeper said this flexibility promotes a feeling of acceptance. "There is often a light switch that kind of changes everything and causes the child to just feel much better about themselves," she said.

Monday, Dec. 17, 2018