Special Needs Now

Pregnancy Timing and Autism Risk: One Mom's Thoughts on a New Study

Sometimes I come across a study on autism—like this one—that doesn't seem to add much to the conversation and seems only to cause more confusion or fear.

son kisses pregnant mom's belly in field at sunset Shutterstock
New autism studies come out all the time—and I cover a lot of them here when they seem useful to parents of a child on the spectrum—but sometimes I come across a study that doesn't add much to the conversation and seems only to cause more confusion or fear. Last week, a new study was published in Pediatrics that claims a younger sibling has a higher risk of developing autism if parents "waited too few or two many years between pregnancies."

While the researchers may have found some correlations between birth intervals and incidences of autism in their large sample group, my real question here is: Who cares? What good does this type of study actually do for kids or adults with autism, parents of a child with autism, or people who are considering getting pregnant again? Autism is a different neurology that's tied to genetics, and this sort of study just makes anxious parents sweat even more. It adds to the fearmongering surrounding a naturally occurring condition that's been around for centuries (if not longer) and it makes the idea of having a child with autism seem like a worst-case scenario.

It's not the worst-case scenario. My son, Liam, is a non-verbal 7-year-old with autism. He is also a joyful, unique boy who—yes—faces challenges, but who also has many gifts.

So, while you may have seen this study, I have to say this: Don't worry too much about it. If you have a child with autism, like I do, sure there's a chance your other children could have autism. I see traits from all over the spectrum in both my boys, though only one of them has an official diagnosis. But it's OK.

As Steve Silberman, author of my new favorite book Neurotribesargues, autism is "a valuable part of humanity's genetic legacy." Or, to put it another way: "just because a computer is not running Windows doesn't mean that it's broken."

Jamie Pacton lives near Portland where she drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons. Find her atwww.jamiepacton.comFacebook (Jamie Pacton), and Twitter @jamiepacton.

Early Signs of Autism