It’s Not The Mom’s Fault: Study Links Paternal Age to Autism

Surely I wasn’t the only one out there who let out a huge sigh of relief when yesterday’s NYTimes story linking autism and schizophrenia to paternal age hit the wires?

It’s not like I’m happy about autism or schizophrenia. My own family has been touched by more than a fair share of autism, and I know it’s an often baffling struggle. Along with that struggle comes blame and self doubt. Blame and self doubt that to date, has fallen squarely on the shoulders of mothers. Not that the dads don’t shoulder it as well. They just are rarely the focus.

You hear it whispered by grandmas, “Oh well, you know, she put her career first. She waited to have kids, maybe that’s why…”

You hear it from the cautious litigation-fearing doctors who hand you the laundry list of foods you cannot eat while pregnant, drinks you cannot drink, activities to avoid, and vitamins not to miss. Do one thing “wrong,” birth a child with autism, and you have a lifetime of wondering why you ate soft cheese when you could have eaten a dry bagel just as easily.

Then there is this: The 40-something man with the 20-something girl who everyone sort of nods at and accepts because it’s biology and only natural that when he is finally ready to settle down, he’d choose a suitable “mate” for bearing his children. A young and “fresh” one.

Old eggs, being bad eggs and to blame for all the autism, etc. It’s an idea very much ingrained on us, isn’t it?

I’m not about to judge anyone based on age alone but damn, it sure is nice to see the playing field leveled a little. Perhaps now when 40-something career women choose to settle down and start a family, the world will nod knowingly at their choice of 20-something mates.

If only it were so simple as age.

I’m pretty sure that there are dozens of contributing factors, many we have yet to realize, that are behind the rise in autism rates.  I’ve heard many hypothesis over the years — genetic, environmental, societal (the increased tendency to diagnose children on the spectrum), and yes maternal. I find all the research fascinating. But today, just for once I find it more fascinating for the focus than for the findings.

Someone decided to look at the dads. And they found something.

To those researchers I say, “Thank you.” Thank you not only for advancing science, but also society. We moms are certainly not off the hook when it comes to this and many other disorders, but we’re in this together. Finally.

 

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