ARCHIVED – 4 Not So Typical Neurotypical Brothers – Does autism run in families?
ARCHIVED: Please note, whilst every effort has been made to update blog posts, this blog post has been archived and may present outdated and incorrect information and terminology.
In 2011 The National institute of Mental Health reported a 19% chance of parents with autistic children having subsequent autistic children. Upon reading this statistic I am full of psychopathic jealousy and rivalry towards my siblings moving swimmingly through their neuro-typical lives. The sort of jealousy that can only be experienced by the youngest of the sibling pact, as you remember all those times you watched on with powerlessness as you older brother stole the chocolate you had been saving for a special occasion and just inanely grinned when they were discovered, whilst you parents just chimed “it’s just what happens when you have older brothers” whenever you protested/cried yourself to sleep praying one of them would wake up in the morning a girl. You see I am the youngest of four older brothers, and I am the only one to have been diagnosed as Aspergers; pretty unfair given the official statistics. However, instead of disputing this statistic, I have taken a long hard look at each of my brothers and decided that two questionably have some autistic traits at least, and the other two are so far along the spectrum they have almost lapped me. The reason they haven’t been diagnosed? It’s never been that much of a problem for them; they’re just considered ‘typical men’.
Research has shown that the families of those with an ASC tend to have a higher ratio of male siblings to female siblings, thought to be a result of high testosterone levels of the parents at the time of conception; heightened levels of foetal testosterone has been a strong contender for the cause of autism for the last decade. This does not mean females with autism are walking around with a beard and a very deep voice (well not because of the autism anyway), but it would explain my lack of sisters.
One of the traits of autism is being good at systemising. Those with a systemising brain type have an intuitive drive to analyse the variables of a system, breaking it down into the rules that run it, and is again more typical in males. As children this can be seen in the games stereotypically boys choose to play, such as Lego building blocks, vehicles and weapons. As adults strong systemisers tend to lean towards careers in fields involving the construction of systems such as mathematics, physics and engineering. Generally there seems to be a trend with the grandfathers and fathers of autistic individuals being overrepresented in careers requiring a high level of systemising. Although two of my brothers are now engineers, my father worked in a paper factory his whole life, one of my grandfather’s was a decorator and my other grandfather seemed to spend most of his time being grumpy and occasionally mowing the lawn. I surmise from this that it’s not all about what field your career is in but how you approach it, I chose to go down the Psychology path, if I am being honest probably so I could systemise human behaviour into something much more predictable.
So, back to my main point, can it run in families? Apparently so.