Having a sibling on the autism spectrum

Thinking about cause

The cause of autism is still not known, though current thinking is that there are probably several contributory factors, including genetics and environmental factors, rather than one single cause. “Experts believe that autism is caused by interaction between several complex genetic and environmental factors. However, at present these factors are not properly understood.” (NAS 2015). Many people had wondered about the causes of autism and a few had actively tried to find out more information about the condition. Some felt it was probably a hereditary condition and they thought about the implications of this for any children they may have. Other people said they hadn’t really thought about cause at all. 

“There are probably aspects of all of us that are on the spectrum”
Some people could identify autistic characteristics in themselves or other family members and several thought there was a genetic basis to autistic spectrum disorders (ASD), although a ‘gene for autism’ has not been identified. The psychiatrist had told one person that autism was “probably genetic but there wasn’t any reason for the rest of us to worry”. Others took the genetic link more seriously and looked into the likelihood of having children on the spectrum themselves.

Some people worried about having a child on the spectrum, while others said it wouldn’t bother them. Those who worried thought about the implications for caring for their own child as well as their sibling in the future. One person felt sad knowing she could be “carrying a gene that could potentially upset another life”. A few people were emphatic that they wouldn’t have children themselves.

One woman, who also had a son with learning difficulties, had taken her daughter for genetic testing, but the blood tests were clear. Her mother had always said that her brother had been deprived of oxygen at birth. 

“It’s just something I would take in my stride and adapt to”
Other people thought that if they had a child on the spectrum, they would be able to draw on their experiences of growing up with their sibling. Other people didn’t think about it; either they weren’t at a point in their lives where they were thinking about having children, or they thought there was no point in thinking about it.

Last reviewed May 2015.
Last updated May 2015.

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