When I contemplated this blog, I wanted to go beyond reading various research articles and books on point, and keep it real…keep it practical. I decided to listen to an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) podcast (while folding the laundry – because as most ASD parents know, multi-tasking is essential). I settled in for my “alone time” enjoying the breeze of the air conditioner with a lap full of beach towels and various bathing suit accoutrement to fold and pressed play on my iPhone.
“Hello, today we are lucky to have Dr. [Smith] with us and he will take us through the importance of early child development and what, for ASD children, went horribly wrong.”
ACK. WHAT?! My towels unrolled and I think I flung some swim trunks across the room as I stared at my phone in disbelief.
As an ASD mom, there are some things that even thinking about are taboo! One of those things is that something preventable went WRONG to “make” your child autistic! Here’s this lady announcing to the world that something is horribly wrong with my children. As I hear notions of “Welcome to Holland” in the back of my head (it was ground into my psyche the week our first ASD diagnosis occurred) (https://www.dsasc.ca/uploads/8/5/3/9/8539131/welcome_to_holland.pdf) , I wanted to reach through the phone and cover this woman’s mouth. Instead, I yelled for one of my co-parents and shared this atrocity. As parents of not one, but TWO kids (twins) who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, mama bears in pairs came out on this one! No way. Our kids are precious, we love them, they drive us nuts, they show us what determination is, they are different – yes, they are wired differently, but nothing went “horribly wrong.” For shame lady!
However, I cannot say that when our family’s first of two ASD diagnoses came, that I did not search for a reason. I did. Desperately. I went through the IVF process all over again in my head, wondering if we could have done something differently. I went through everything I ate during my pregnancy, thinking of every soft cheese or hot dog consumed and every Tylenol taken. I thought about the stress of being parents to twin newborns and whether we spent enough time talking to them, reading to them. We even had genetic testing completed to no avail. I needed to know WHY. However, in the end, as their PreK teacher taught them “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” Well, maybe.
As a special needs parent you have to give yourself permission to grieve what you thought was going to be and embark on what actually is – so it’s OKAY to get upset and then you take a deep breath and move forward. Nothing is “horribly wrong.” My kids are a joy: a pair of rambunctious, brilliant beings who I cannot imagine being any different than exactly who they are. The eggs benedict I had at 7 weeks pregnant did NOT cause them to have autism, neither did the albuterol at 20 weeks that kept me alive to keep them alive. It also wasn’t because I stopped pumping breastmilk at 22 months instead of 24 months or because we gave them melatonin to sleep. NOTHING went horribly wrong.
When people are faced with a challenge, they look for causation, in part for someone to blame. As I understand it, the anti-vax community of parents firmly believe that vaccines (specifically the MMR Vaccine – the first dose of which is typically given at age 12-15 months) cause disorders such as ASD. The concept behind the “vaccines made my baby autistic” theory is that the thimerosal (a preservative in the vaccine), causes Autism. The link most commonly identified is that the child seemed “normal” (we say neurotypical) before the vaccine and signs and symptoms of neuroatypicality only arose after the vaccine was given. However, study after study has been performed on point and the results are very clear: there is no relationship between Autism and vaccines. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/autism.html.
Then what is the reason for the timing of the vaccine-then-symptomology relationship? In my humble opinion, it’s simple: stages of development. The development that occurs during the period between age 1 and 2 is huge for children. They are learning to sit, stand, walk, talk, etc. etc. Before that, they have less demands to perform new tasks other than things which are physically responsive. Therefore, vaccine or no vaccine, you are not going to SEE issues with fine motor skills until a child is of an age when they start to USE fine motor skills. Piaget anyone? https://www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html
Another causation theory that makes it rounds is that a cesarean delivery (C-Section) under general anesthesia causes ASD. (OMG I had a C-Section)! The foundation is that the anesthesia itself is a part of the risk (due to big science words like “anesthetic neonatal neurotoxicity”) and then it is paired with a lack of mother-to-infant bond immediately after birth (because mom is still knocked out from the anesthesia). While there is a correlation between children born by general anesthesia C-sections and children with developmental delays, it is likely that they are BOTH results, not catalysts. Children born by C-section with a birthparent under general anesthesia are usually born that way, not because of election, but because of some other medical condition that necessitated those birth conditions (eg: fetal distress, illness of carrier, or other known risk factors.) So instead of the surgery causing the autism, something caused the surgery AND the autism (Raz, 2020).
What is the scientific answer? There is one quote from a research article I read about comparing maternal beliefs about ASD causation that made the most sense to me:
“The growing consensus in both communities is that ASD is a multifactorial neurodevelopmental disorder involving the interaction of environmental and genetic factors” (Chaldez et al., 2018).
Wait. So, what’s the cause? – in my own words: everything and nothing. Nothing went horribly wrong. We head into the unknown…every day taking a deep breath and moving forward.
With that, I finish folding the laundry to the gentle cacophonic hum of the very familiar Snap Circuits design #68 paired with “Let It Go” for the 9,782nd time.
- Center for Disease Control & Prevention (updated 2020). Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism. Vaccine Safety. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/autism.html
- Chaldez, V., Fernandez y Garcia, E., Wang, L, Angkustsiri, K, Krakowiak, P, Hertz-Picciotto, I & Hansen, R. (2018). Comparison of material beliefs about causes of autism spectrum disorder and association with utilization of services and treatments. Child Care Health and Development, 44(6), 916-925.
- McLeod, S. (2018). Jean Piaget’s Theory and Stages of Cognitive Development. Simply Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html
- Raz, A., Lehavi, A., & Fein, S. (2020). Cesarean Delivery Under General Anesthesia Causing Autistic Spectrum Disorders: Not Very Likely. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 4, 1451.
- Kingsley, E. (1987). Welcome to Holland. Retrieved from https://www.dsasc.ca/uploads/8/5/3/9/8539131/welcome_to_holland.pdf