I went to a little party for other “autism moms” recently. In between the snacking, catching up, and you-won’t-believe-what-the-school-did-now stories, a conversation about the potential causes of autism began.
If you follow the news at all, you’ll see theories as to what causes autism nearly every week. Maybe it has to do with the time of conception. Or the mother’s stress level or use of anti-depressants during pregnancy. Then there’s maternal antibodies (from the flu?), or the theory that autism is actually an autoimmune disease. Confused yet? I know I am!
But here’s the thing:
I don’t care to know what caused my son’s autism.
So many of these theories are things that aren’t preventable. I mean, do researchers think people are going to abstain from sex for three months out of the year to prevent autism? Not using anti-depressants might seem like an easy choice, unless you’re the woman who needs them in order to live. How much of stress can we really control? Even getting the flu vaccine doesn’t always prevent the flu.
While I was pregnant with the Menininho, my husband took a job across the country when I was 10 weeks along. My mother and sister moved several states away at 14 weeks. I alternated between my brother living with me, a best friend living with me, and living alone. I also accelerated my Masters degree so that I could graduate at 34 weeks pregnant, and then moved 3 weeks postpartum so our new family could all live together. You could say that I was a little stressed. Some of those stresses could be forseen before we decided to have a baby, others not.
But if the Menininho’s doctor could look me in the eye at his next appointment and say “Maya, we know for a surety that your stress during pregnancy caused your son’s autism,” what good would that do me? I can’t change anything. It wouldn’t have even helped with Baby J’s pregnancy because how do you easily quantify stress? The only thing it might do is add to the stress I’m already under trying to address M’s diagnosis.
I battle guilt being a mother on a daily basis, “typical” mom guilt: are my kids eating a balanced diet? Is it a problem that M asks for Sid the Science Kid and Ellen DeGeneres by name? Then I add on the “autism mom” guilt: are our behavior tactics the right ones? Should I have said yes to that second session of speech therapy a week? I don’t need to add the guilt of the idea that I could have somehow prevented the Menininho’s autism on top of that.
No. Instead I’ll focus my energies on finding the right treatments for M. What’s done is done, and dwelling on whether I could have done something differently only takes valuable energy away from taking care of my family. Call me when scientists find a cause we can prevent but until then, you can find me enjoying my boys and trying to beat autism.