(NBC) - It's something many parents aren't equipped to understand — a transgender child.
Researchers are finding many people who identify as transgender start to struggle with gender identity at a young age.
Seven-year-old AJ is comfortable in her home, in her roller skates, with her princess dresses and figurines. AJ is not her real name. AJ was born a boy.
At three and a half, he longed to wear dresses and jewelry, then other signs appeared.
"When she was about four we were going to the bathroom in Target and I was holding her hand and we were walking toward the boys bathroom," said AJ's dad. "This was when she lived as a boy, she stopped about two feet from the bathroom and was like 'dad, I can't go into the boys bathroom. I'm a girl.'"
"When I first - in fourth grade - cut my hair they called me he/she," said AJ.
Caroline Gibbs is a counselor and founder of the Transgender Institute in Kansas City.
"The prevalence of this condition is outrageously higher than we ever thought," said Gibbs. "The youngest kid I have currently is three, and the oldest kid is 83."
Gibbs counsels anyone interested in transition or starting to live outwardly as the gender they feel inside.
"If I have people walk into my clinic what we find astoundingly is that all the people, including kids, will not only say the same things, they'll say the same words. They used the same words," added Gibbs.
Patients often experience anxiety and depression because they feel misunderstood while leading two lives. Endocrinologist Dr. Jill Jacobson hopes to change that.
"We have started seeing patients with transgenderism," noted Jacobson.
The pediatric endocrinologist is searching for causes of transgenderism. Many of her female patients are producing an elevated level of testosterone.
"When we are able to explain that to families its sometimes helpful to them to understand how their child is feeling and helpful for them to explain to other family members," said Jacobson.
She hasn't found similar findings for boys who identify with being a girl. For now, options for transgender children and their families are to start puberty blockers as soon as possible.
Then, usually at age 16, kids can start taking hormones for the gender they identify with.
"The gender identity for every person on the planet is that sense inside and that situation in the brain that we don't understand fully, scientifically yet. We're learning," said Gibbs.
And so are the kids and their families.
"It's not something that we wish for, it's not something that we wanted it just happened. My thought process all along was that I'd rather have a happy healthy little girl than a suicidal dead son"
The Transgender Institute is a good source of information for families with transgendered children. For more information, visit the sites listed below.
TransYouth Family Allies