$1 million federal grant will help study of transgender kids
The first large-scale, national study of transgender children, including some as young as 3, is poised to expand thanks to a five-year, $1 million grant awarded today by the National Science Foundation to the professor leading the project.
University of Washington psychologist Kristina Olson, 36, was named winner of the NSF's annual Alan T. Waterman Award, the government's highest honor for scientists still in the early phases of their careers. The NSF said the choice was unanimous, and noted pediatricians are already using her findings to raise awareness about gender diversity.
While the award citation honors Olson for a broad range of her research on children's perceptions, she has become best known as creator and leader of the TransYouth Project, which is widely considered the most ambitious long-term study of transgender children being conducted in the U.S.
Launched in 2013, the project has recruited more than 300 children ages 3-12 from 45 states, with the goal of tracking their development over 20 years. The NSF grant will help Olson maintain the study as many of the children go through adolescence; she hopes to continue it into their adulthood.
"'Transgender children' is a category we have so little scientific knowledge about," says Olson. "I'm interested in their experience of feeling you are in a social category that other people don't think you're a part of."
Some of the study's early findings were reported two years ago in the journal Pediatrics – notably that the 73 children being tracked at that time had rates of depression and anxiety no higher than nontransgender children in control groups. The trans children were supported by their families and allowed to live openly as the gender they identify with – suggesting to Olson family support was a key to avoiding the mental health problems identified in studies of other transgender youths.
"In a very scientific way, our study shows that this group of kids is doing really, really well," she said in a telephone interview.