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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It's All In The Genes For Us.

I come from the perspective that autism is a multitude of disorders under an umbrella term. ASD. I'm not alone on that. Some autisms I suspect are caused by genetic mutation (de novo) some by an environmental 'insult', and others perhaps like my family, purely genetic. I appreciate when it comes to parental perspectives it is almost always shaped by the kind of autism our child/ren have, and possibly also by the philosophical approach to ASD we choose to believe. And so, based on that very ordinary fact I will share here what some of my family's experience of autism and beyond looks like. I do this because my husband and I have come to terms with the fact we make quirky kids. We knew this prior to Harri being born because before him came his intriguing sister. An older sibling, not on the spectrum, just.

When Ali was born she, like Harri, required a lot of bouncing and carrying to fall asleep at the end of a sensory overloaded day. She developed extreme sensitivities to light, noise and clothing as time went on. In fact it is only recently that she no longer holds her hands over her ears and cries when the kids in her class sing a song in unison.

When she was toilet trained and converted to underpants, she whinged and whined about just about every pair, bar a few. Same went for socks. She was also, and still remans, picky about the clothes she wears. She could watch the same DVD continuously. And even now at almost seven, requires several calls of her name before she will register the voice and tear herself away from whatever she may be enthralled by on the screen. Which is completely different from Harri as he can't sit still long enough to watch a commercial.

Socially she is skilled, yet controlling. Shy and yet simultaneously extroverted, depending on context and audience. Her verbal skills were precocious when very young and have evened out somewhat now, but she does have unusual turn of phrase. Such as, rather than saying "I'm mad" she's says "I'm boiling".  In day care where she spent two years prior to kindy they called her "Imagination Girl" such was and is her capacity for abstract thought. In fact just today I heard her telling Harri the bubbles in the bath were, once in a pile in her hand, a 'Mexican Pie', which given we live in Australia is odd. She likes collecting stones and rocks, and I find piles of them hidden in her room. If she loses one, she cries. So yes she has some interesting traits. None of which render her disabled. But do point to a sensitive and quirky nature. And I wouldn't have her any other way. But at the time we were struggling to make sense of all her sensitivities during the first few years we had no clue about ASD and sensory integration issues.

Enter Harri, who as a baby made Ali's behaviours pale into insignificance with his constant fussing. Once we had his diagnosis and were able to make sense of why he did what he did,  Ali's quirks started to also fall into context. Particularly in light of their father and I doing the BAP and both scoring highly.

Harri's ASD manifests less as sensory related now whereas Ali still has some residual issues but seems to be growing out of it. Unlike Ali he does not show much interest in TV, nor has he developed obsessions (like Ali's rock collecting). He had significant language delay when diagnosed unlike her precocious verbal skills at the same age. He has rigidity around routines, she does not. He has an incredible memory, she does not. He has fixations with buttons, switches, keys, locks. She doesn't. Both were very oppositional toddlers. Both incredibly strong willed. Both bright. Both unique in their ways.

So for my family at least it seems there's a very strong genetic legacy. I don't think Harri's Aspergers was caused by an environmental 'insult' during pregnancy. I suspect it's a simple case of when my genes and my husband's mix together we make kids like Harri and Ali. Ali falling somewhere along the BAP most probably, but not Autistic, and Harri, perhaps due to his gender,  over the line and into ASD.  I know speculation over what caused our child's ASD can be angst inducing and pointless, but for me this idea of it being all in the genes makes sense. And does bring some level of comfort. I know I might be wrong but for now, unless proven otherwise, that's what I am sticking with.


  1. Totally agree. Bill, Liam and I are in the world genome project through Trinity Uni. When Bill and I did our psych & language tests we competed to be best in true Aspie form. Bill's Dad, Mum and brother are all pretty odd and he has a severely autistic nephew. Bill's theory is that Aspies are more tolerant of the quirks of other Aspies and therefore end up getting together- then having kids who turn out to be ASD. On my side there is a nice little train of Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ADD and depression. I hold my breath when I wait to hear how my Australian nieces & nephews are developing, and sigh when my sisters tell me they are talking.
    There are extremes that challenge us and make us stronger, more powerful, more resilient and A lot more interesting. Xx

  2. You're right that this kind of speculation can be somewhat pointless, but it sure is interesting. Sometimes I look at my son and feel like I'm seeing a combination of my husband and my own quirkiest traits, magnified for all the world to see. Our daughter, who most likely isn't on the spectrum, sounds a little like yours did: a few sensory issues here and there and above average verbal skills.

    Wouldn't it be boring to have normal kids? :)

  3. My first child, is very 'normal'. Was an easy baby, an easy child, an easy teenager, and now an easy adult at 19. I could never have imagined after having her I was capable of producing such complex little people. The variable, is the father's genes. Harri and Ali being my current husbands, and my first daughter having another father. This is what supports my idea that it's the genetic mix of both parents. And you both seem to have kids (and hubby's :) that also support that idea.

    It's interesting to me that some people are resistant to this possibility. It seems to me as obvious as the nose on my face.

  4. God bless your little cotton socks. You are SO undiagnosed. :D

  5. Ajax, that made me laugh out loud (or LOL as the kids say) Iv'e been wondering how long it would be before someone said that :)))))

  6. I totally agree with you on the whole genes issue. I'd say it's like that for my family too. I definately think it's a mixure of both sides. (Although I have so many people tell me my son is so much like me! lol)