It’s Time to Up Your Worry Quotient on Autism.
Just in time for Mother’s Day, mothers of all stripes received a gift from Seoul, South Korea. Packaged neatly inside a research study, the gift itself was a spanking new state-of-the-art worry. No returns, no exchanges allowed. The study, published in The American Journal of Psychiatry last week, revealed the shocking news that 1 out of 38 children may fall somewhere along the autism spectrum. The number is almost three times greater than the previous estimate of 1 in 110 released by The Centers For Disease Control a few years ago. This was already a staggering number. Lest parents of girls think they are off the hook, the Korean study also found that more girls are affected by autism than previously thought.
The study was larger in scope than any previous research. Its authors attempted to screen all of the 55,000 school children between the ages of 7-12 enrolled in Goyang City, a district near Seoul. In prior research, only children who exhibited symptoms of autism or who were considered high risk for the syndrome were screened. The researchers concluded from their study that if children in other countries were screened in equal numbers, the autism rate in those countries would rise dramatically as well.
Dr. Young Shin Kim, lead author of the study and assistant professor at the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine, claims her findings don’t mean that suddenly more children have autism, but simply that many children are undiagnosed. Two-thirds of autistic children in every community may go unrecognized.
My question is this. What should the average parent do with this information? Should we do exactly what we did when the now obsolete terror color-coded warning system upped the threat level from yellow to orange? Um, we did nothing but up our worry quotient.
I wonder if mothers, particularly inexperienced ones, are now going to fear that every childhood quirk is a symptom of autism. I would. When I studied psychology in college two hundred years ago, I was sure I exhibited symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. Until I got to the chapter on borderline personality disorder when I decided that was what I really suffered from. Until I got to the chapter on obsessive-compulsive disorder and…you get the picture. When I was studying child development in graduate school, one of the required textbooks was titled, Is My Baby All Right?. Each chapter was dedicated to a different birth defect or inherited disease. The crisis of world overpopulation could be averted if every couple contemplating parenthood were forced to study that book. And now we have the new autism numbers.
This information is invaluable to medical researchers as they hunt high and low for causes, treatments, and ultimately a cure for autism. I root for them. Far too many parents feel helpless in the face of this heartbreaking affliction. Also, these new statistics may trigger an alarm for some mothers who are conscious of their children’s struggles but lacking direction in their quest for answers.
But, for most expectant mothers, new mothers, and mothers of children who may just be shy or socially maladroit, there is now one more thing to worry about, one VERY BIG THING, on an ever growing list of unfortunate outcomes for which mothers can blame themselves.
Parents are drowning in information. Here I go talking about the old days again. I can’t seem to help it. When I was pregnant I didn’t drink or smoke for fear my baby would arrive with fetal alcohol syndrome or low birth weight. That’s old news today. My daughter-in-law has been coached by her doctor to say no to caffeine, unpasteurized cheese (which includes all the good kinds like feta, goat, and brie) most fish (mercury), and all deli meat (sliced by knives that may have come in contact with bacteria). If her baby arrives with issues she can wonder whether she bears the blame because she missed her folic acid supplement three days in a row or because she should have eaten more kale.
We’ve all learned through research that stress doesn’t do anyone any good. It can wreak havoc on all of your bodily systems as easily as any disease. There should be a name for the special stress brought on by knowing too much. Prenatal Information Syndrome. Someone should fund a study on that.
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