A few days ago a friend approached me with an interesting question. Her son is on the spectrum and she wondered if he had children, if they would be on the spectrum, too. I told her I would do some research (my favorite thing) and get back to her. Providing her with any useful information proved harder than I had thought. My first stop was checking out the websites of the CDC and NIH. They gave the generic definition of autism, and said that in boys autism occurs in 1 out of 59 births, and in girls 1 out of 159 births. Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed. Immediately, I was disappointed. These were old statistics. The male ratio might be correct, but the female ratio is grossly wrong. Talk to almost any autistic woman and they will generally tell you that they spent most of their early years masking, they may have gotten diagnosed much later in life (I was 46) and have a slew of other diagnoses that may or may not be incorrect. The tests used to measure autism are set up to measure males, not females. So, despite my disappointment, I soldiered forward. I wanted to know what the chances were that if one parent had autism, what are the chances that the children would also be on the spectrum. Even more interestingly, I wanted to know what the odds were of having an autistic child if BOTH parents are autistic. If found….nothing. Absolutely nothing. The bulk of information was on early identification in males and early intervention. There was no information on late diagnosed women or men. I don’t know if this is because there is no interest in this area, or if the CDC and NIH are so cash strapped they simply can’t fund the studies.
Since these two sites provided me with crickets, I looked in other areas. Modern Psychiatry gave me some tidbits. A recent article claimed that “ASD rates were highest when the father was aged 35-44 and his partner was more than ten years younger.” This perked up my ears. Robert was 42 when Boo Bear was born, I was 31. He was 44 when Mouse was born, I was 33. Boo was diagnosed at age 2, Mouse at age 14. (Remember what I said in an early blog about girls flying under the radar? Mouse and I are both really good at that.) The article went on to say that about 50 percent of people with ASD also have a developmental delay. Neither Mouse nor Robert have a DD. Boo definitely does. I am known as what is “twice exceptional”. I am gifted in some areas and severely delayed in others. Though I soared through graduate school, I cannot do math above a sixth grade level. Though my verbal skills are off the chart, I cannot even manage basic algebra.
Quora also chimed in. ” Is the risk that children of autistic people will be autistic too?”
“The simple answer is yes. Although the geneology of autism is complex and far from being solved , there is great suggestion from studies undertaken that autism is hereditary.” In a 2017 study it was found that ASD is 33 percent more hereditary than thought. They estimated that around 83 percent of cases where a child was diagnosed, others in the family qualified under diagnostic criteria, too. , Many female adult autistics with whom I have spoken said that their diagnosis came after their child’s diagnosis. Many of us, myself included, did not recognize autism in our daughters because their behavior was so similar to ours that we did not think that anything was out of the ordinary. Often, it takes someone completely outside the family circle to realize that something is different.
The last study that I found was published June 18, 2019 in JAMA Psychiatry. “Among families in which both parents scored highly on a test of autistic traits had an 85 percent increase of autism in their children. And among families in which one parent had a high score, the risk rose by 52 percent, compared with families in which parents had lower scores.”
So, in answer to my friend’s question, yes there is a risk of an autistic parent having an autistic child. Chances are lower if the father is young and if the mother and father are closer in age. But, basically what my delving about on the Web showed me was there are not enough studies, particularly in this country. All the resources seem to pour into early childhood intervention. No one seems to care what happens when these children grow up. Darker forces, like Autism Speaks, talk about Autism like an epidemic that must be “wiped out”. Frankly, I think Autism Speaks is a money loving organization that portrays Autism as the Boogey Man. I don’t believe Autism is on the rise and certainly do not see it as an epidemic. Autistics have always been around. We may have gotten different labels, thrown in institutions, or just thought of as eccentric, but we did not just suddenly appear in the last two or three decades.
People who are Nosey Parkers have asked me if I knew I was autistic before I had children, would I have had children in the first place? The answer is twofold: One, it is none of your d–n business, and two, yes I would. Boo and Mouse are the lights of my life. I cannot imagine the world without them. They are both amazing kids with their own remarkable skill sets. One is highly verbal, one never says a word. Autism Speaks says that they should be eliminated, or at least have ABA drilled into their heads so they do not appear to be so (gasp!) autistic. I am calling BS on this narrative. Autism is not an epidemic. Autistics are a force to be reckoned with. We should not be subjected to ABA so that we can pass as neurotypical at the danger of our own mental well being. Like everyone else, we are born, we live, we learn, we love, we eventually die. We are not a threat. As Temple Grandin says, if there were not autistic people who saw the world in an unique way, we could still be living the life of the cave man. Stim on, my friends.