Thank you for your blog. I’ve frequently enjoyed your writing, but as the mother if an autistic four-year-old boy, I’ve been reading closely of late. I was wondering if you might be willing to write about whether or not having a child with autism has had any effect on your and your wife’s decisions about family size? I know it is a very personal question, but it is one I struggle with a great deal, and so I very much appreciate hearing perspectives from other parents who have kids with A.S.D.s.
One child was always our plan.
Growing up I was led to believe that the “only child” would inevitably wind up spoiled or lonely, but I saw too many examples to the contrary to believe that by the time we were married. On top of that, my wife and I are thoroughly “urban”, in the sense that we cleave to many of the characteristics of those who live in cities: our politics are progressive, we don’t feel a need for a huge home, and a small family strikes us as the ideal.
That’s not to say that we wouldn’t have changed our minds, as so many do after the first child arrives on the scene. But several factors contributed to our resolve in this matter.
For one thing, the chance of our son becoming spoiled or lonely did not seem as big a threat as it would have been with a neurotypical child. This didn’t discourage us from a second child, but it perhaps removed some incentive.
For another, raising a child with autism requires more time and energy than does a neurotypical child, as you well know. Our friends had twins at around the same time as we had our son, and when they were all around five we reckoned that our overhead — one child with classic autism versus twins — was roughly the same.
And then there’s this: a couple who has had a child with ASD is at greater than average risk than the general population at having more with ASD. That chance, according to this NIH autism fact sheet, is about 1 in 20. Those odds are high enough to deter me, even though my background in science tells me that, statistically, they probably shouldn’t.
And so, one child. That said, there is an argument for having another that, to my mind, I find somewhat compelling (even though, I euphemistically add, that particular avenue is closed to me). Barring something unexpected, our son will almost certainly outlive us. I think it’s unlikely that he will ever be able to care for himself, but a sibling could see to that care even after we are gone.
Have one child to care for another? This brand of cold calculus seems archaic, something a 17th century farmer would do when determining whether he had sufficient hands to work the fields in the coming years. But as I’m sure you’ve discovered, raising a child with ASD leads to all sorts of dilemmas that most need never consider.