Monday, May 6, 2013

It's not your... or my... fault.

I just got through looking at this article, billed as a great explanation of what autism is.  While it does a good job of hitting the technical high points, I had a hard time with the fact that right after "what is autism" they go into on listing the environmental factors that cause autism.  Then they spend all of a sentence or two saying that these things do not cause autism, but merely make it more likely. Well, check out the paragraphs that got in my craw for yourself.
In the presence of a genetic predisposition to autism, a number of nongenetic, or “environmental,” stresses appear to further increase a child’s risk. The clearest evidence of these autism risk factors involves events before and during birth. They include advanced parental age at time of conception (both mom and dad), maternal illness during pregnancy and certain difficulties during birth, particularly those involving periods of oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain. It is important to keep in mind that these factors, by themselves, do not cause autism. Rather, in combination with genetic risk factors, they appear to modestly increase risk.
A growing body of research suggests that a woman can reduce her risk of having a child with autism by taking prenatal vitamins containing folic acid and/or eating a diet rich in folic acid (at least 600 mcg a day) during the months before and after conception.  

This article was supposed to explain the ins and outs of autism.  It was billed as an explanation of what autism is.  Instead, it spent a few paragraphs explaining autism, then jumped to what causes it.

I've got to learn to stop reading these.

Their research doesn't ring true in my family.  I was the very most careful with my pregnancy with Ryan.  I gave up caffeine completely, took my prenatal vitamins, and took folic acid before he was conceived.  I didn't each lunchmeat (which wasn't hard because I didn't like it, but still), and tried to stay away from processed foods.  I got exercise, read every little thing I could get my hands on, and drank tons of water, mostly with lemon because my doctor said it would help with swelling.  I was never sick during pregnancy with him, and when I got pregnant, Eric was 32 and I was 25.  The only true birth complication with Ryan was the fact that his sweet little booty was wedged... and that's the word the midwife used... in my pelvis.  We tried to have him turned, which was painful, expensive, and didn't work.  After that, I walked calmly into OR for surgical delivery.

With Richie, I kinda halfway quit caffeine.  I gave up around halfway through, when I discovered that we'd be moving when I was nine months pregnant or so.  I ate what we could afford, which was often what I made.  But I certainly didn't worry about not eating processed foods.

With Maelynn, I did everything but juggle knives.

With both Richie and Maelynn, I became sick enough to run a fever at least for a short time.  And with Maelynn, I was on antibiotics for a UTI.

Guess which two kids are neurotypical.

I'm not saying I don't appreciate research.  I'm not saying I don't like the work of Autism Speaks.  Almost anything that furthers awareness, understanding, prevention, and the all-important early intervention I'm all for promoting.  So before anyone fires a letter off to Autism Speaks to tell them I hate them, WHOA.  Not saying that.

What I am saying is that there are tons of families struggling.  Awareness is great.  And should we learn what causes even one form of autism, let's do it!  Let's use that to our advantage!  It's just so hard to listen, as an autism mom, and I'm sure it's the same for every other disability, to the list of stuff we could have avoided.  Because guess what?  The ones who are reading the articles are likely the ones who did try to have the healthiest pregnancy possible.

One of the first things my OB told me after our rather scary and somewhat life-threatening miscarriage was, "You didn't do anything to cause this.  You didn't have one two many diet cokes, cups of coffee, or ANYTHING that caused this.  It just happens."

So let's go ahead and do the research.  By all means, let's try to prevent what we can.  But as the ones left with the autistic child reading said research, we have to stop and remind each other that we didn't do anything to cause this.  We are not lesser parents.

Because I spent years thinking there had to have been something I did.  He was with me from the time he was conceived, so I felt like the odds were pretty good that something I did caused this.  Too much TV?  Too many buffalo wings?  Did I stand too close to the copier at work?  We lived in the city... could air quality have done it?  Stress?  That one root beer I had that I didn't realize had caffeine?

I don't know what causes it.  I do know, however, that my child and all of yours are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that the One who flung the stars into space knows each hair on my child's head, and knew him before he was born.  I know that raising Ryan has made me a better person.

All you moms and dads reading the research, seeing the headlines, and wringing your hands over what you *might* have done... please, please, please hear me.

You didn't do anything to cause this.

You love that sweet kid every day, through the messes, frustrations, meltdowns, and all, and you know what?   That's what he needs.  To know you'll be there.  And that you value and delight in him.

I wish I could hug every one of you and tell you that in person, but I guess this will have to do.

Thanks be to God for us, our children, and the things that make them distinct, whether or not a diagnosis had anything to do with it.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this reminder...I can't tell you how many times I fight blaming myself. I think of the cleaners I used, the one Diet coke, and most of all, my stress and if there was something I should or shouldn't have done. Sigh...


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