I have a 4-year-old son, who is a high functioning autistic child. Since age 3 he began wearing his jacket over his head pretending it was his long hair.

Recently, my Mom gave him a Halloween wig to play with and he loves it. He likes to look himself in the mirror with the long hair. But recently, my Mom asked him who was that in the mirror and he responded it was a girl. He mostly has girls as friends, at school female teachers and there aren't many boys around to play with. At school he is often rejected by other boys due to his special needs, although he doesn't seem to be aware of that. There aren't many male figures in my son's life.

Could my son be confused since he hardly has activities with males? What things can we do to help him develop a stronger identity?

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    I was wearing high heals as a young kid, and I didn't end up "identifying" as female and I didn't end up homosexual. Kids are naturally curious, and if he is interested in wigs, let him enjoy wigs! I think your son may not pick up on the the negative social ques that normal kids do, so he may end up enjoying things without worrying about what others think. I think that's fantastic. Get his father involved as much as possible, he may be able to guide him through disappointments in the future and of course be a good male role model.
    – Craig
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 0:52
  • 3
    I think you may get better answers if you de-emphasize the aspect of female behavior and emphasize the question about male role models. Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 20:45
  • Growing up my sister and I played "house" and "school" and switched/swapped gender roles and person roles (who's the mom? who's the dad? who's the kid?) regularly. She and I are both (relatively speaking) "normal" adults. Let it be what it is and let them develop as they do. If you want to steer him in a certain direction, then just put things out for him to see and interact with. Leave a police officer's hat on a table, leave a doctor's face mask on the shelf. Go towards personal role instead of personal identity. And don't forget to just breathe.
    – Cometsong
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 15:25
  • Is his dad in the picture at all?
    – Questor
    Commented Jul 26, 2023 at 22:36

4 Answers 4


I am not sure there is an actual "problem" here. I might be biased on the topic though because my son was only two when he asked me to stop stealing his hair (his explanation of having had his hair cut) and so I did & let him grow it. Later he wanted it cut again, then not. I don't mind one way or another as long as it's clean & taken care of, he can have any hair he wants.

He also used to love having his fingers & toes painted, putting on my makeup, etc. He had a huge box of dress up things & he often interchanged being male & female characters. He outgrew most of that, still loves long hair & seems to me to be a well adjusted average boy of his age. My 2nd son showed less interest early on, but later wanted long hair too & now he too has grown his out.

My youngest is a girl, 3 & recently told me she wanted her hair cut. I said okay. I should have been more specific about it because she took it upon herself to take care of that. So now she is my child with short hair while my boys have very very long hair.

It really isn't something you have to worry about. I know many parents do, but if you stop & reflect, it's hair. It grows. You can cut it 100 times, and it still grows. You can grow it 10 years & in 5mins you can shave it all off. If he likes long hair, then he likes it. If he likes pretending to be a girl, that isn't anything either, other than play. He likely also likes to pretend he can fly, drive a bus, be a firefighter, be a doctor, etc.

As far as role models, all children need good solid strong male & female role models in their lives regardless of whether you are raising sons or daughters. Ideally that would be mom & dad primarily & then others who are close family or friends. If mom or dad is absent, then seeking out more time with a grandparents, aunt/uncle, etc is a good idea to allow a child to see examples of adults they can identify with on gender AND that are examples of things you hope they will aspire to become, responsible, kind, reliable, trustworthy, honest, hardworking, etc. You do want your children seeing examples of the types of adults you hope they will aspire to be and the type you hope they aspire to date.

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    I would suggest that especially for less socially adept kids observing examples of and interactions between the different kinds of people is helpful in getting a full picture of their world, but explicit explanations of the meanings of what they see are vital.
    – user26011
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 17:03
  • I am not sure I fully understanding what you mean by "explicit explanations of the meanings of what they see". I talk to my kids about things all day, every day. I tend to focus on what I ask as much, if not more, than what I tell. I find it is more useful in gauging where they are developmentally & understanding how they view the world at this point in time/development, etc.
    – threetimes
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 7:33
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    The point wasn't that you are wrong in any way, but that I would add helping the kid interpret to your section on role models. For many that is checking that they read it right, or helping them think about what they saw using a couple questions, but for some I think telling maybe required.
    – user26011
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 13:56

Kids are kids

and love to explore the world. Let him both dress up as a soldier and paint his nails. No big deal, most of us did.

Do not look bothered / worried / overinterested

whatever a kid will find to attract your attention, will do 100x

Provide good male and female role models

Manly behavioural role models are getting very hard to find. Be sure he has access to some. Anedoctally I realized this only after coming in contact with great male role models.

Do not treat a kid as an adult

It will take 10 more years for your son to start puberty and maybe 5 more after that to be sure of his sexuality. Avoid like a plague things like "maybe my 5yo is a trans" (yes you'll find things in that directions). Let a kid be a kid and enjoy the world as such and do not worry, even if done with the best interest, about things that can't even be understood by kids, every aspect of human development has its biological timeline and forcing it can only be derimental. Everything has its time, only thing that your son needs to know is that you love him and his world exploring doesnt bother you (unless dangerous). :-)

  • 6
    What is a "Manly behavioural role model"? Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 9:55

Maybe less "confused" as much as "unconcerned." As you point out, a lot of his friends are girls, a lot of the teachers/adults he looks up to are female.

If one of the things he likes about the female gender is their hair (I'm certainly not qualified to speak on autism, but it doesn't seem out of the norm of autistic behavior to particularly notice a preferred feature in that way, from my layman's understanding), then it would be normal to imagine or pretending to have a feature that one admires.

I think it's more of a matter that your child sees it as hair, and likes it, and doesn't necessarily categorize it as something gender-specific, or, at least, importantly gender-specific enough to reject the idea of having that feature (or maybe doesn't view himself, at that age, as necessarily differentiated enough to care about what is "boy" vs "girl" and how he is supposed to fit those norms).

I think you will be presented with enough challenges and learning for raising a child with autism. I wouldn't sweat the smaller stuff that isn't really important, which, at this age, it doesn't seem to be.

Anecdotally - I had really long eyelashes as a child, so, when I was about that age, my sister like to have her friends over and dress me up in dresses and stuff like that all the time. I didn't mind it at all, didn't think it was weird, and never had any confusion about my gender or orientation.


Does anything need to be done? I think you should let them develop into their own person, especially at such a young age.

Will they end up identifying as a female as they grow older? Probably not. If they did, is that a problem?

Let them explore what they like and encourage them to try new things.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 2:09

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