A US study has found that trans children’s sense of their gender is as firmly held as other children’s.

Gender Cognition in Transgender Children studied trans children who live as their acquired gender in supportive homes and compared with cisgender children of the same age. Study author Kristina Olson said she was inspired by the transgender child of a friend, and the challenges the family experienced.

She said in a statement at the Association of Psychological Science: “Seeing how little scientific information there was, basically nothing for parents, was hard to watch. Doctors were saying, ‘We just don’t know,’ so the parents have to make these really big decisions: Should I let my kid go to school as a girl, or should I make my kid go to school as a boy? Should my child be in therapy to try to change what she says she is, or should she be supported?”

The study found trans children’s responses were indistinguishable from cis children, they were not confused or pretending, and they deeply felt and understood their gender identities.

Co-author Dr Nicholas Eaton said: “We found that gender cognition in the transgender kids was indistinguishable from their non-transgender peers and siblings. They appear exactly like their non-transgender peers/siblings, but in the direction of their gender identity, not their sex.

“For example, in the case of a child who was assigned male sex at birth but now lives life fully as a girl, her responses on all the study’s tasks were indistinguishable from non-transgender girls.

“As schools and organizations struggle with how best to accommodate and include transgender children—in public restrooms, in locker rooms, on sports teams—our results inform the debate and support honoring the needs and identities of the transgender children.

“We can help families understand the needs of these children, and we can also help schools, medical providers, and society more broadly understand how best to think about and include these kids in all aspects of life.

“Our ultimate goal is to come to a better understanding of the experiences of transgender individuals and identify ways to support them across the lifespan.”