Aug. 15, 2011 at 10:38 AM ET
A new study in Pediatrics says the recurrence risk of autism in younger siblings is higher than thought. Hardly comforting to autism families who want a second or third child and not surprising to me, Mom of three (!) daughters with autism.
In 1999, my daughters Mia and Gianna were 3 and 4 years old. Both girls were in school for speech and other developmental issues, which made my life as a Mom more stressful and full of questions than most others.
But I adored babies, and had always planned to have three, four, maybe five children. Pregnancy and infancy were a blessing to me. (Mmm, maybe not the sleep deprivation part of those first months.) However, with two girls who were obviously developmentally delayed, we also wanted answers. Would autism strike all of our children if we chose to have more?
We had a pediatrician in Philadelphia when the girls were very young who told me, “I’ve never heard of a family with more than one child with autism.” Then Gianna began to exhibit the signs. Uh oh. When baby “Rocco Stagliano” started to appear in my dreams, I decided to ask my doctor what I should (could?) do.
At his advice we sought genetic counseling. The geneticist at a top Children’s Hospital said the chance of a third child with autism was perhaps 25%, which sounds a lot like this current study, some 11 years after I had asked for a probability number. He told us it was at best a guess. We set aside our plans for a third child, unsure of what to do. Well, New Year’s Eve 1999 arrived; Mark and I partied like it was 1999 as per the Prince song. Nine months later Bella arrived! Despite her autism (which is very different from her sisters’ version) she is an angel and the perfect bookend to our family.
If you have a second (or third) child on the spectrum, your experience with your first will make the process easier. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but knowing how to look for signs and ask for help eases the pain somewhat. I’m not going to tell you it’s easy – you’d know I was fibbing straight away.
There’s hope for new treatments, therapies and an army of families making sure that our kids have every tool to grow into a safe, successful adult life, whether they have Asperger’s Syndrome or full blown autism. In short, you won’t be alone. We “old timers” will not let that happen.
I hope I serve as proof that a family can thrive and prosper. Children aren’t appliances; they don’t come with warranties and guarantees. My girls are my joy. Just as I’m sure your child with autism is your joy too. And while I’d take away their autism for their sake, their Dad and I love them just the way they are.