Should I Have Another Child When the One We Have Already Has Autism?
I originally posted an article with the same title right here more than seven years ago. Just before my second child was born.
Upon returning to Hub Pages tonight, it was my most viewed piece. Unsurprising given that this topic is one that plays on the minds of many parents. Which is partly why I have chosen to rewrite with up-to-date statistics.
The other reason is, though, that I don't necessarily agree with all the original points having since had a third child - who has also been diagnosed...
"Should I have more children when I already have one with autism?"
Let me answer with two counter questions: Do you really want to? Have you got enough resources - mentally, physically and financially to make it work?
"What about if I have two or more who already have a diagnosis?
I know you're looking for more depth than that - which I will get into next, I promise, but essentially your response to those two questions will be unique, personal and filled with that oh-so-underrated gut instinct.
Let's just get this out of the way. Most parents considering whether or not have more children want to know what the chances are of having another child with autism.
That does not mean they would not go onto have more children, even with a one hundred per cent chance. It means that they are arming themselves with as much information as they can in preparation for future possibilities.
In the UK, the NHS published a news report which cites recent research stating:
"The researchers found that 18.7% of the children (132 children) with an older biological sibling with ASD had ASD at the age of three.
Among these younger siblings, boys were almost three times as likely to develop ASD as girls, with 26.2% of boys affected compared to just 9.1% of girls. Children with more than one sibling with ASD were twice as likely to develop ASD (32.2% affected) than those with only one affected sibling (13.5% affected)."
For comparison, the percentage of school aged children with a diagnosis of autism in the UK is 11% according to Ambitious About Autism.
Genetic counselling is an option.
For some, this route may be an essential part of the decision-making process. If that's you, then don't be afraid to ask. Acknowledge all of your feelings, without guilt.
Siblings offer a relationship like no other to children with autism.
As well as the benefits of having another person to love and be loved by, sibling relationships are dynamic and unique. They naturally share experiences, allegiances, push boundaries and challenge comfort zones.
Do you have room?
Physically, in your home. While some children with autism crave closeness, especially at night, others simply cannot share a bedroom. Honestly, sometimes a safe space in the form of their own bedroom is absolutely necessary. A room divider or more permanent solution may work in some instances, but if you are already cramped for space then this may be something to factor in.
How's your support network?
Growing and maintaining a network of support, even if it's mostly emotional support, is only going to benefit you and your children. Having a few shoulders to cry on, people to share the joy with and some degree of practical support is an important consideration.
Some people are certain that having more kids isn't the right move for them. And that's OK! It's important to accept that over the views of other family, friends, relatives or anyone else.
Some people are repeatedly warned against having anymore children because... "Oh how will you cope?" (Sigh). As above, the views of anyone outside your household - those who will be directly impacted - are ultimately irrelevant.
What if? ... Well, what if?
You're already doing it, right? And I'd hazard a guess, not even knowing you, that you're doing a good job of it. Being here, reading this, arming yourself with whatever you can... it says to me that you are a parent determined to do their best by the child they have already - and any of their future siblings.
Don't let the 'what ifs' bog you down.
We knew our eldest son had autism from around 18 months of age. He was diagnosed on his third birthday. He is now 13 years old, in a specialist provision, has significant challenges still - some which we expected, and others which we didn't or are new. Realistically, we are looking at him needing a lot of daily support throughout his life. He is happy, loves listening to music, swimming, playing train simulator games and has the best memory for birthdays. I kid you not, he knows everyone's from mine, Nanna's, our neighbours' to Cardi B, Ed Sheeran and Deontay Wilder's.
Our second son was born in 2012, four days before our eldest turned six. He was very much a planned child. He is 'neurotypical' and attends a mainstream school. He's loving, compassionate, caring, concerned and helpful. He is supportive of children who need support in school. He has challenges of his own which may, or may not, be linked to the fact he has two brothers on the spectrum.
Our youngest child was born in the spring of 2015. He was a unexpected blessing, conceived at a time when I myself had no qualms about admitting I wanted a third child but the children's father was deeply concerned about our ability to cope. He was seemingly the most typically developing child of the three. Eye contact, good sleeper, feeder, sociable and curious. For the first time since becoming pregnant with my second son, I relaxed a little.
By 2.5 it was apparent his speech wasn't developing quite as it should, by 3 it was clear he was a little too active at times, I remained unconvinced about ASD right up to the Christmas before his fourth birthday although I was pursuing assessment to get an answer and had already taken him to his first paediatrician appointment. A pre-school Christmas play, alongside a number of behaviours becoming apparent in that setting, was the beginning of three very convincing months. By the assessment appointment in March I knew what was coming.
He now attends a specialist provision, has lots of friends, is exceptionally joyful, chatty, plays with toys in elaborate and inventive ways, has an amazing imagination and is a huge Daddy's boy. It didn't take long for Dad to settle into having a third child.
They are all loved. They are all supported. They are all wonderful. They are all different.
The bonds between each of them are fascinating and bring a happy tear to my eye practically every day - like all families there are days siblings drive each other, and you, to distraction.
We have no issues with love for the children. We manage, time wise, though I can't deny it is not difficult. We cope financially. We still manage a date here - even though it usually falls in the two hours before a IEP meeting or annual review. We, as a couple and a family, are stronger than we have ever been.
Admittedly, we are tired. There are days and weeks, months even, when we are emotionally exhausted. There are far too many conversations about the children and not nearly enough about... anything else!
Would I change anything, at all? No.
Are we having any more? No.
From the minute I held my third child, I knew our family was complete.
Choosing whether or not to make your family bigger when you are handling so much already is no easy decision. Earlier in this post I asked:
- Do you really want to?
- Have you got enough resources - mentally, physically and financially to make it work?
Be confident that things will work out beautifully, if not chaotically, whatever happens next for you.