Part 2 – How common is it for one or both parents to find out they have some level of autism after their child`s diagnosis?

familyEditor’s Note: This is the second article in a series of four about autism within families. The next edition will be on this Friday.

Many people talk about the increase of autism in this generation.  When the majority of professionals are asked they will say that autism is on the increase, but is this true?  Or is it simply that more people are being diagnosed, and there has always been this level of autism in society?  And in fact, could the parents of this generation of autistic people also have some level of autism themselves?

A lot of parents are unfamiliar with autism, and only know about it from films such as Rain Man, up until their child`s diagnosis.  Often they find it new, difficult to deal with, and struggle to understand what is going on for their child.  But a surprisingly large number of parents say that as their child grows older – especially when they get in to their teens – they as parents begin to identify with some of the behaviours.  Parents may take a long time to come to the conclusion that their autistic child/teenager might be behaving the same as they did when they were younger.  But generally, once they begin to look at their own life compared to the life of their child, some parents do begin to think they themselves may have gone undiagnosed up until that point.

Thirty or forty years ago autism was hardly known about, much less spoken about.  And it is also known that autism does tend to – if not run in families – occur in several members of the same family, for example siblings being born with autism.  So it is not much of a stretch to assume that autism could be passed on from parent to child.  And when the sheer size of the spectrum is taken in to account, it makes sense that there may well be more subtle traits of autism in many people who slipped under the radar at a time when their condition was neither understood, nor cared about.

It might seem like a bad thing for somebody to realise that they have autism so late on in their life, but in fact, after the initial shock it can be a refreshing, and positive experience for the parent.  It might be painful to look back and see how different their life might have been if they had been diagnosed as a child, and the support had been there for them.  But at the same time their lives will probably begin to make a lot more sense; people often don’t see their behaviours from other people’s points of view.  But being able to look back, knowing that they have had autism their entire life, they might be able to see how various aspects of the behaviour actually do fit some of the known traits of autism.  It can also give them a greater understanding of their child.  And give the child a greater understanding of them.

There is nothing to suggest that autism is wholly hereditary, and that just because somebody`s child is diagnosed they as parents will also be on the spectrum.  But it`s a situation that is occurring fairly frequently nowadays, and definitely something that parents of newly diagnosed children should think about.  In fact the parents of any autistic children may wish to consider the possibility.