Do Asperger's syndrome parents have autistic children?
October 26, 2007 7:13 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend has Asperger's syndrome, and while I have no official diagnosis, I am a bit of a geek. We would like to have children at some point in the future. Will our children be at risk of more-serious autistic spectrum disorders because of our own less-serious "conditions"?

We are particularly concerned about this study:
CONCLUSIONS: Children from families in which both parents manifest subthreshold autistic traits exhibit a substantial shift in the distribution of their scores for impairment in reciprocal social behavior, toward the pathological end.
What other studies are there? Is there any possibility or evidence that mild autism genes from both parents somehow reinforce each other and cause severe autism?
posted by anonymous to Science & Nature (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
So much that Wired did a story on it.
posted by jwells at 7:36 AM on October 26, 2007


Since Asperger's is kind of an amorphous syndrome, without clear mechanisms, it's impossible to definitively say whether susceptibility would be genetically inherited by your offspring or not. What we do know:

- There's some evidence to suggest that it may be genetic and if that's the case, then yes, your child would be at higher risk. This is all very tentative, though, and I'd take any data with a grain of salt until more is known.

- There are also a bunch of hypotheses about environmental causes being the primary causes, which are poorly substantiated as well. If these turn out to be the predominant mechanism, you wouldn't have much to worry about.

Your question really highlights the problems that the medical community is facing with genetic testing. In cases like autism and Aspergers, where so little is known, no tests will be able to help you decide what to do. Given how little is known about the disorder, and how mild Asperger's is, (compared to diseases that are more socially crippling, like autism) I wouldn't be worried.
posted by chrisamiller at 7:36 AM on October 26, 2007


Given how little is known about the disorder, and how mild Asperger's is, (compared to diseases that are more socially crippling, like autism) I wouldn't be worried.

Asperger's isn't necessarily mild, maybe compared to full blown autism, but just by itself it can be very hard to deal with. I have mild asperger's, my 2 nephews, on the other hand, are more extreme. Raising them has been quite hard on my brother. They are great kids in weird wonderful ways but I'm not sure I could deal with them on a daily basis.
posted by doctor_negative at 8:04 AM on October 26, 2007


There are some articles quoted on the wikipedia page on Aspeger's.

I wouldn't worry about severe autism though. Unless you are autistic yourself the chances of getting an autistic child are really low. Have kids. It will be great fun.
posted by uandt at 8:12 AM on October 26, 2007


FWIW, and it may be coincidental, I know someone married to an Asperger's person--he's high functioning, (works in banking). Both their children have autism, one is not very high functioning, the other is moderate to low functioning. fI think you are wise to be thinking about this ahead of time.
posted by 6:1 at 8:28 AM on October 26, 2007


PowerCat, I wasn't aware that the existence of Asperger's was up for debate.

Anon, the FAQ here may provide some helpful info. Also, perhaps talk with your doctor(s), any autism researchers you know, etc.
posted by bassjump at 8:30 AM on October 26, 2007


My mum teaches autistic spectrum kids, and she says the parents often seem (undiagnosed) mild autistic or Asperger's. She says autism is something to do with 'extreme male brain' and that two male-brained parents are likely to produce an extreme male-brained child. Don't know what science there is to back this up and I am no expert on the male-brain theory, just throwing the anecdotes out there.
posted by corvine at 8:37 AM on October 26, 2007


Are you sure your girlfriend has Asberger's, I was under the impression that it is incredibly uncommon in women. Do you have it? Have either of you been diagnosed. If so, then maybe you ought to consider adoption, as it might be easier all around.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:50 AM on October 26, 2007


I have no official diagnosis

...

Will our children be at risk of more-serious autistic spectrum disorders because of our own less-serious "conditions"?

You have no official diagnosis, yet you're totally convinced you have it. And you read an article on the Internet about it. Hmm.

You probably do not have Asperger's Syndrome. Actual, confirmed AS is rare. If you really want to know, get diagnosed.
posted by Mikey-San at 8:56 AM on October 26, 2007


At the risk of derailing, I say this quickly: if you do become convinced of a genetic risk that concerns you, and still want children, please consider adoption.
posted by minervous at 9:12 AM on October 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


BobbyDigital, it used to be thought that Asperger's was seen exclusively in males, but in recent years this has changed.

While it's still predominantly male, I think the prevalence is now considered to be 2-3 males for every female. My guess is that this has more to do with better diagnosis than with an actual relative increase in numbers of females with the syndrome.
posted by pammo at 9:45 AM on October 26, 2007


Get a referral to a genetic counselor.
posted by artifarce at 10:03 AM on October 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I concur with others that you run a higher risk, just not sure how high. Best of luck to you and your wife.
posted by pammo at 10:23 AM on October 26, 2007


Since there's no gene associated with autism, going to a genetic counselor seems pointless for the poster's concern (though a good idea for other reasons).

Autism is a spectrum-disorder, so it's likely more than one (probably many) genes are involved. Whether or not your putative offspring gets enough of the genes to cause them to be symptomatic depends on the random shuffle (genetic recombination) of meiosis. There is likely to be an environmental trigger involved in the disorder as well, so even with "bad" genes, one might be asymptomatic.

Much more research needs to be done in this field before anyone can give you more concrete answers. Yes, you're probably at higher risk, but no one can tell you how much.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 10:29 AM on October 26, 2007


while I have no official diagnosis, I am a bit of a geek.

What is it with geeks and self-diagnosing themselves with Asperger's syndrome? Seconding seeking a professional diagnosis before you decide not to have any kids.
posted by pravit at 11:01 AM on October 26, 2007


Wrong Planet is the go-to website for questions like this.

I agree that you should seek a professional diagnosis before making a decision on something as weighty as procreation.

On the issue of self-diagnosis:
You probably do not have Asperger's Syndrome. Actual, confirmed AS is rare. If you really want to know, get diagnosed.


I don't want to derail, but considering the state of psychiatry these days, I don't necessarily give professional diagnoses a great deal of certainty one way or the other. (case in point: ADHD diagnoses and the ensuing overmedication) Even among those who have been diagnosed, I don't get the sense that the doc is conducting a rigorous, thorough analysis, particularly since in adults the symptoms have been softened by life experience and adaptation.

For me, I think the telling question is why someone might self-diagnose. Are they just seeking to justify their own bad behavior? ("I have AS, so I can't help being this way.") Or, do they want to better understand their lives and the challenges they have faced, so they are better equipped going forward?
posted by Brian James at 12:17 PM on October 26, 2007


I still stand by my argument that how your [kid] will be as an adult is solely based on his training.

Yours is an unusual take on the matter. Most people with expertise on the subject think that there's a biological aspect to it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:21 PM on October 26, 2007


I don't want to derail, but considering the state of psychiatry these days, I don't necessarily give professional diagnoses a great deal of certainty one way or the other. (case in point: ADHD diagnoses and the ensuing overmedication) Even among those who have been diagnosed, I don't get the sense that the doc is conducting a rigorous, thorough analysis, particularly since in adults the symptoms have been softened by life experience and adaptation.

Sorry, Charlie, not buyin' what you're sellin'. The bottom line is, as I alluded to and someone else came right out and said:

What the fuck is up with Internet nerds self-diagnosing Asperger's Syndrome? I've seen it on many, many forums.

Basically, you're saying you don't believe professional diagnoses, so that lends some sort of credence to the self-diagnosis of a nerd on the Internet. Hate to break this to you, but:

a + b != c
posted by Mikey-San at 1:24 PM on October 26, 2007


Hmm. I generally think the repercussions of a geek self-diagnosing Asperger's from what they read on the internet are both a) rather minimal and b) of no concern to anyone else.

In the case of genetic counseling, however, I think I would rather trust a professional. The evidence of genetic components is really at a threshold level here and much disputed. My personal feeling is that you should go ahead and have kids and just use this as a caution flag in terms of parenting, something to be ready for, but I don't think the odds are known to be particularly higher (if they are known at all). The real question for you may not be "Are we more likely to have autistic/AS kids?" but "Are we prepared to be the parents of autistic/AS kids?"

Frankly, the diagnosis rate is very high today (probably too high, but that is likely an artifact of aggressive intervention by school systems). There are lots and lots of parents successfully raising autistic-spectrum kids, and a fair number of them aren't free of issues themselves. My belief is that this is a worry you have more about yourselves, but you're expressing it in another way. It's common for new/future parents to go through a period of insecurity. As you well know a diagnosis is not the end of the world and so your kid is just as likely as anyone to end up happy and well-adjusted with or without AS.

For myself, yes, I am one of those self-diagnosing geeks. I took the online test, and it said I was about halfway between "normal" and the typical level of an AS. You know, I think that's about right. And it's helped me understand myself a little bit. Syndromes, by their nature, aren't black and white diagnoses; they're cumulative. Ultimately they're a collection of symptoms. I believe that identifying symptoms is a world of difference from diagnosing yourself.
posted by dhartung at 1:59 PM on October 26, 2007


I've been involved in research on high-functioning autism for a few years. Anecdotally, it's commonly agreed around the labs where I've worked that if we're seeing a new-to-us family with a child who has autism, we should be prepared for a pretty good possibility that one or both of the parents may display some sort of autism-like behavioral traits.

That said, the genetic research just isn't solidly there yet that I'm aware of (though I could very well be wrong here, genetics isn't my area), so I don't know that there's really a solid answer to your question. Or that going to a genetic consultant would do you any good. You might want to look into it for peace of mind, but you're probably better off doing more research. If you want to get a diagnostic workup yourself, look for a doctor or research program where staff are specifically trained in autism diagnostic testing. Whoever you talk to is particularly going to be interested in any medical or educational documentation you have from the first few years of your life that might indicate any developmental delays or deficits you had, so you might want to start getting that paperwork together if you want to pursue this.
posted by Stacey at 3:54 PM on October 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


I keep getting like 36 out of 39 on those AS tests. So far, I've been faking it, and have no real symptoms. I'm 60. I have 2 kids and two grandkids, all of whom seem OK.
Point being, you probably need a real expert on these thigs to diganose you and your friend before you start worrying.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 5:08 PM on October 27, 2007


thigs/things
posted by unrepentanthippie at 5:09 PM on October 27, 2007


follow-up from the OP: A few clarifications: My girlfriend definitely does have Asperger's, and I definitely do not. When I said I do not have an official diagnosis, I did not mean to imply that I have an unofficial one. I mention myself only because I understand that autism is a spectrum disorder, with, say, Autism being -10, Asperger's being -6, geekiness being -2, normal being 0, and some other things further to the right. Yes, it's a gross, terrible oversimplification, and I am not suggesting Asperger's mother (-6) + Geek father (-2) = Autistic-leaning child (-8), but nevertheless, there seems to be a kernel of truth to this crude genetic arithmetic, and my question was about the degree to which actual science backs it up. Thank you to everybody who answered.

As things stand, we definitely intend to have kids. Our feelings are those of dhartung: "My personal feeling is that you should go ahead and have kids and just use this as a caution flag in terms of parenting"
posted by jessamyn at 7:16 AM on October 29, 2007


Growing up with my whole family, male and female members, having either symptoms of the disorder or in the most recent case of my siblings and me, an official diagnosis, I wouldn’t consider the fact that I will have a child with Aspergers a barrier to reproduction.

I’m the third generation to come out odd in my family, and it doesn’t seem to be getting worse, despite nerdy intermarriages. Some things have actually blessedly mellowed; in example my mother’s migraine inducing light sensitivity is merely unusually high light sensitivity in the sibs and me. Similarly I actually possessed something closer to a conventional sense of humour, something my genetic father missed.
posted by Phalene at 10:44 PM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


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