Many parents don’t find out they themselves are diagnosed until their children are diagnosed with autism. This leaves many people wondering if autism runs in families. Read on to find out.
Is autism genetic?
If you asked this question ten years ago, the answer would be a resounding no. Autism research did not begin improving until autistic-led research became a thing. This didn’t happen until recently.
Years ago, many non-autistic (allistic) and neurotypical people were afraid that autism ran in families because autism was perceived as a disease, thanks to the stigma. The most popular autism organization in the world has encouraged most of this stigma, perpetuating the lies. You may know it by the blue puzzle piece.
Still, the answer isn’t cookie-clutter.
Autism can in families, according to research
- If your child is diagnosed autistic, at least one of their parents are likely to be autistic as well.
- There’s a one-in-five chance of an autistic child having an autistic sibling, especially if they’re female or have other autistic siblings.
- If your spouse is autistic, at least one of their parents are most likely autistic as well.
However, this is not the rule. The research required to deliver a definite yes doesn’t exist yet. It all depends.
Autism gene myth
Autism is “highly heritable”, but here’s the thing: There is NO “autism gene” that scientists have found.
Allistic researchers have long been searching for a special “autism gene” they can pinpoint to eradicate autism. This is known as eugenics. That is why people are so hard-pressed to find an “autism gene”.
You might be saying, “But I’ve seen/heard/read autistic people talk about it!” That’s the joke.
The myth of the “autism gene” is the joke. Autistic people also joke that they “leveled up” their autism because they got the COVID vaccine or booster. COVID boosters do not cause autism; still, non-autistic people use the myth as a reason to be scared of it.
Autistic people sometimes joke about the ableism of non-autistic people as a way to deal with our pain. It’s unironically funny, and no — our therapists don’t think it’s funny, either, but how else do we put up with prejudice injustices? Some of us need our morbid senses of humor to stave off depression.
(I’d like to take the time to point out the irony that is allistics getting upset at autistics thinking literally, only for many non-autistic people to take offense at our literal humor based off this exact irony. It is an epitome of the autistic experience.)
Genetic vs. hereditary
I’m neither a scientist, nor do I understand science-y things to a T; it’s not my special interest. However, I do know that genetic and hereditary conditions don’t mean the same thing. A genetic condition is not necessarily one you can inherit and vice versa.
Both refer to our DNA and genetic makeup, but they’re different:
- Genetic = Relating to your DNA, like genes within a cell
- Hereditary = Inherited from your parents (like DNA)
Genetic disorders most commonly associated with autism, and often mistakenly used interchangeably with “autism” are Fragile X syndrome and Rett syndrome.
- Fragile X syndrome, a rare genetic disorder, is one of the most common causes of intellectual disability (ID), yet only one in 200 autistic people are found to have it.
- Rett syndrome is a genetic disorder that affects mostly females, and an estimated 4% autistic people assigned female at birth (AFAB) have it.
In the past, the misconceptions surrounding autism and genetic disorders has led to non-autistic parents involuntarily sterilizing their autistic children by fighting for the right to do so in court — simply to avoid them from reproducing. Allistics today still believe this is the “right” choice.
Autism eugenics is perhaps the #1 reason autistic people struggle to trust non-autistic people. Forced sterilization is still legal in many US states. Eugenics of people due to prejudice is not a new concept.
Other causes of autism
There is a lot of research on the causes of autism for all the wrong reasons. This leaves society with many unanswered questions and few definite answers.
No one knows what causes autism in an individual person entirely; they can only guess based on their family history and childhood. Until the research is more definite, we have only approximate guesses of what causes autism.
What researchers do agree on, however, is that people are born autistic or not. Autism isn’t something that can be developed later in life, a common misconception associated with vaccinating children. Rather, autism is often missed, especially in girls and marginalized groups.
Autism might be genetic, nongenetic and/or environmental. Because no actual “autism gene” has been discovered, pinpointing an exact cause is difficult. This journey also brings up the question of why in regard to researching it.
What would happen if the cause of autism was discovered? I imagine it’d be like mermaids in glass tanks, or dragons or dinosaurs in captivity. As an autistic person, I don’t want a definite cause of autism to be determined. I fear allistic and misguided autistic radicals would misuse and abuse the information, seeking to weaponize it or eradicate people like me simply because they are afraid of difference.
If autism does run in your family
- It’s nothing to fear and everything to embrace.
- It’s an opportunity to learn more about your relatives by digging deeper. Do you notice any patterns in their behavior?
- Be wary of bringing it up out of the blue. I once said, “I’m pretty sure almost everyone in this family is autistic and that I could name your special interests,” at a family gathering. It did not end well — apparently my family “doesn’t get spiritual illnesses”.
- If you can, work together to figure out if you all mask in some way. Are there any societal norms you follow because you think you have to or “that’s just how it’s supposed to be”? Masking isn’t always suppressing stims.
Autism is not scary. If anything, it’s awesome most days and more of a struggle because of societal injustices and problems.
What are your beliefs about autism and genetics? Share in the comments below.