By Malavika Sajan

Carleton graduate student Kai Jacobsen has won the Autism Scholars Award 2023, in recognition for their groundbreaking research on the experiences of transgender autistic people and accessibility in health care. 

The Autism Scholars Award aims to encourage the study and research of autism, especially child autism. This initiative was created to provide better knowledge, education and health care for those with autism and offer better services and assessments to support autistic people.

Jacobsen is currently pursuing their Master of Arts in Sociology, specifically looking at the barriers to health care that disproportionately affect transgender autistic individuals. Jacobsen explains, “My master’s thesis is about trans autistic people’s experiences of accessing gender-affirming care, and we know from existing research that trans people are more likely to be autistic than the general population, and vice versa.”

This research centres around the lived experience and perspectives of transgender autistic people.

Traditionally, research doesn’t always include the voices of the people who are most impacted by the research,” says Jacobsen. “It creates a lot of barriers to care and there’s really very little research evidence that actually centres the experience of trans autistic people and asks them, what are you experiencing in health care and what do you need to actually make health care more accessible to you?”

While previous research has identified an overlap between these identities, Jacobsen emphasizes the importance of the nuanced experiences of these individuals who face discrimination based on this overlap. As Jacobsen describes, “Health-care providers sometimes require autistic people to do longer assessments or wait a longer time to make sure that they’re ‘really’ trans, because of a perception that autistic people can’t be sure of themselves and their gender identity the way that non-autistic people can.”

Carleton University master’s student Kai Jacobsen is the Autism Scholars Award 2023 Recipient

Receiving this scholarship was surprising to Jacobsen, unexpected in large part because they believed it would be more difficult to receive funding for research relying on community-based research methods. 

“It’s sometimes hard to get funding for these less traditional community-based research projects, especially in the autism world. I am able to focus more on my research in the upcoming year and grateful that this specialized award exists to fund research that people like me are doing,” says Jacobsen.

The timeliness of Jacobsen’s work is more apparent when considering the anti-trans landscape currently taking place in the United States. “In the past few months, two different states have used the fact that trans folk are more likely to be autistic as justification for banning gender-affirming care for trans people,” says Jacobsen.

The significance of this award that directly and tangibly helps the community is what holds the most value to Jacobsen.

“Having that support through this scholarship provides both a material and symbolic support for my work.” 

Monday, August 14, 2023 in , ,
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