Here are just a few things linked to the development of autism that did not apply to us before or around the time that Jack was born:
Advanced maternal age
Advanced paternal age
Living near interstate highways
Living near high-voltage power lines
Not taking prenatals (I took the expensive prescription ones)
All of those things have been implicated as possible causative factors in the development of autism. None of them applied to us. So, in the back of my mind, I called bull****.
Then, I read the most recent study that suggests a link between the augmentation or induction of labor - a practice that has certainly increased in the past decade or so - to the development of autism.
I just had to go and get preeclampsia, didn't I? If I hadn't been so sick, I could have gone into labor just like all of those British women in Call the Midwife and then I would have a child who had no special needs. Surely, that did it, right?
Except that I doubt that's it. I doubt it's that simple, really. I think that people are trying to look for a way to justify it all. Expectant parents want answers. They - more so than us in the trenches with our autistic children - want to know why this happens and how to prevent it.
However, I feel like we step down the same slippery slope with these studies that we do with the vaccine debate. The media publishes them as if they were Gospel; however, there is little evidence of causation (showing that a factor CAUSES autism) and far more evidence of a correlation (that a factor SEEMS to be observed when autism is observed). However, there are correlations to nearly everything autism-related. A friend of mine once noted that the number of pirates worldwide has decreased since the days of Long John Silver, and at the same time the number of autism diagnoses has increased. That does not, my friends, mean that pirates are a good prophylactic against an increase in autism cases since the absence of pirates obviously does not cause autism. (Or does it?!?)
You want to know the answer? I think I've figured out something that certainly increases that chance that you'll have an autistic child. Here it is...
Getting pregnant increases your risk of having an autistic child.
Yep, you heard me right. If you and your partner are currently childless and worried about doing anything that might increase your risk of having a child on the spectrum, getting knocked up is a certain way to toss your hat in the potential special needs lottery.
Actually, that works for just about anything, really. The risk that you'll have an autistic child goes up just by getting pregnant in the first place. So does the risk of having a special needs child at all. Honestly, if you want a 0% chance of ever having a child with special needs, don't have children. That's the only sure-fire way to be certain that you will never join the ranks of the special needs parents.
Hell, you can prevent all of the following - which some people would want to avoid, right or wrong as their reasons may be - in their potential offspring...
Having a child who struggles academically
Having a child who is gay
Having a child who wants to dance when you like sports and vice-versa
Having a child who gets in an accident and is disabled that way
Having a teenager who will get pregnant themselves
Having a child who will defy you
Having a child with your father's uni-brow
...simply by having no children at all.
Being mathematically-minded doesn't mean that your child will excel in math. Putting your boy in all blue won't make him straight. Giving your son a football won't take away his desire to do ballet. Being healthy won't keep your child safe from the potential dangers in the world. Sending your daughter to Catholic school won't keep her from having sex in high school. Being an understanding parent won't keep your child from being defiant. Having perfectly groomed eyebrows won't save your son from that horrid uni-brow.
And as much as you may wish it, there is nothing that anyone can knowingly do right now to ensure that your child will be born without a disability. Autism happens to people who don't vaccinate and who home birth. Down Syndrome happens to families in their early twenties. Cerebral Palsy can happen to anyone.
Yet, when we allow the media to override the voices of logic and reason, what emerges is a type of popular pseudo-science easily passed off as fact. In the wake of these "studies" whose results are passed off as Gospel, we see fear creep in and override our good judgement.
For one thing, perhaps it is not that autism is caused by induction, but possibly that carrying a child with autism causes a higher risk of pregnancy complications. In that sense, maybe there are cases in which autism causes the induction. More research needs to be done, so it serves no purpose to speculate as so many in the media do.
And even if induction and delivery augmentation was one day proven to cause autism (it has NOT been proven to cause autism, let's just make that very clear), then would you do any different? If a doctor came to you and said, "I need to induce your labor to save you and your baby's life. If I do, it might cause your child to be autistic, but he'll be alive. If I don't, you and your baby could die", wouldn't you still do it?
Yet induction and augmentation do save lives and - in some cases, such as mine - are absolutely medically necessary. I had preeclampsia. My alternative to induction was to simply wait the remaining 3 weeks out until I either delivered or was too sick to deliver. I was - at that point - putting my life and my son's life at risk with each day he remained inside me. I was induced to keep the both of us from declining further.
And it worked. We're alive. For if you take a look at the person in the picture above, that's me. A very sick and puffy me, bloated from high blood pressure, medication, and excess fluids. The cure was delivering my son.
Yet, when patients start second-guessing every judgment call made by their physicians in the critical moments, mistakes can - and will - be made. And if I had to go back and make that decision all over again - induce my labor at the earliest possible moment or risk the health of my baby and kidney and liver damage to myself - I would induce. I was sick, the cure was delivering the baby, so we delivered the baby early. I was just lucky - extremely lucky - that they didn't recommend delivery when I was diagnosed with preeclampsia at 32 weeks and put on bedrest at 34 weeks.
(As an aside, I had a very ignorant coworker at the time suggest - after Jack was born - that perhaps we should not induce labor or perform c-sections as a sort of medical "survival of the fittest", and basically implied that a doctor should have waited it out and - if we lived until I naturally went into labor - then I lived and got a healthy baby. He wasn't well liked in our department, as you might imagine.)
So I urge you all, do not panic when you see the most recent study regarding the supposed "causes" of autism. My son's autism was caused by him being conceived in the first place. I firmly believe that it was simply written in his genes. Don't blame yourself for the decisions you did and did not make, because you made each decision based on the information you had at the time and by weighing the risks carefully.
You did not do something to cause your child's autism any more than you did something that caused them to be female, have red hair, or look like your grandmother. You see, ultimately your child's autism comes down to complex factors that include some genetic component. A shuffling of your chromosomes at conception - combined with your partner's - created that perfect genetic scenario that ultimately led to your child developing autism.
And that is not your fault. You have no more control over which gene gets passed on or expressed in a certain way than does the driver of the car next to you. Don't let fear or guilt cause you to make rash decisions or spend a lifetime second-guessing your choices.
Your child has autism, but he or she is here. And alive. And given the alternative, that's the choice I'll make every time.