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“If Only…” Autism And The Blame Game
Not one, but two of today's news items provide possible clues as to what could cause Autism... "Less Folic Acid In Pregnancy Tied To Autism". Whew - I'm good on that one, I think to myself as I read, recalling my daily struggles to swallow those horsepills both pre- and post-conception for both of my pregnancies. (I'm the WORST pill-swallower!) But uh oh... I'm feeling not-so-great about the next article, "Antidepressants In Fish Trigger Autism Genes In Fish". Here, scientists cite contamination of our water supply by medication as being responsible for causing Autism. If only I stuck with bottled water, I chastize myself. But wait; are those same chemicals in bottled water too? Before I can figure that one out, I read the article's footnote and learn that it may be irrelevant. "This article was first posted under a different headline. It has been changed to emphasise that the finding concern fish, not humans." Okay, I'm a human, not a fish; so I may be off the hook here too.
But there's still that research study from two years ago that sticks in my mind about mothers living near freeways having double the risk of having a child with Autism. When my husband and I embarked on our lives together almost twenty years ago, we bought a cute little starter home on the outskirts of a great neighborhood in Toronto. It had everything we were looking for – three bedrooms, a master ensuite, great backyard, and it was in our price range. There was only one drawback. You guessed it... It was a stone's throw from the 401, one of the widest and busiest highways in North America.
And then there's the study revealing that mothers who had fevers during their pregnancies are more than twice as likely to have children with Autism or developmental delays compared to mothers of normally developing children. I can't even recall being sick when I was pregnant with Michael, my beautiful 17-year old son who was diagnosed with Autism just before his third birthday. My husband, whose memory is much better than mine, remembers that I was sick with a fever for a few days. The study advises that "pregnant women who develop fever take anti-pyretic medications and seek medical attention if their fever persists." I know how anti-medication I was during pregnancy, in my efforts to protect my unborn children. Did I take anything to bring my fever down when I was pregnant with Michael? I honestly can't recall.
There are many, many more studies that point to possible causes of Autism, from obesity during pregnancy to fathers being older. And, I think it is safe to assume that there will be many, many more. For this, I am grateful. While all of this research may not help Michael, it could change the lives of his future nieces, nephews and the countless other yet unborn individuals who, without these ongoing scientific pursuits, would be subject to today's terrifying 1 in 88 Autism prevalency rate.
When a parent receives a diagnosis of Autism, it is very easy to fall into the trap of self-blame. Thanks to Leo Kanner, for decades mothers blamed themselves for their children's Autism and it was widely accepted that Autism was caused by a mother's failure to emotionally bond with her child. (To my utter amazement, this is still going on in France but that's a whole other story.) We now know with 100 per cent certainty that our parenting abilities have absolutely nothing whatsover to do with our children's diagnoses. But what about all of these research studies that keep popping up, suggesting possible ways in which our lives and our children's could have been drastically different had we done, or not done, something different?
The rational side of me knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was very careful during my pregnancy. Then and now, I'd do anything to protect my children. But life throws its curves at us, and we can't go back in time to undo what has been done. For the most part, I guess I've faced my demons. But every so often, like this morning when I began purusing the Autism-related news of the day, I couldn't help asking myself "What if...?"