Saturday, April 21, 2012

Obesity and Autism

This has taken me a few days to be able to write about this because it hit me really hard when I heard it, but here it goes.

I think I've mentioned on here several times that my youngest son is high functioning autistic or what was commonly called having Asperger's Syndrome (the new DSM V is doing away with the term Asperger's it seems). So, on the scale of autism, he is at the tip top of the range with being very high functioning autistic. He spoke early. He communicates clearly. He is academically on target and so on. But, he has many classic austism traits - doesn't play with kids interactively, lines up toys instead of making up play, he talks but has difficulty making conversations and his speech is very repetitive and so on.

We suspected something wasn't quite right around the time he was two or two and a half and at almost four we got him tested and at the time he was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder - not otherwise specified. Huh? What is that? Basically, yes, he showed delays but didn't show enough symptoms of autism to get the label at that age. When he was 5 he got retested and this time he got the label of autism. By then I was ready for the diagnosis as it would mean he would get the help he needed in school.

My son doesn't need help with academics. He reads above grade level and does math at grade or slightly above grade level. What he needs help with is doing is work = starting and finishing. And I worry about his future, of course. I know academically he can do anything, but what life skills will he be lacking to be able to live independently and happily?

When I was pregnant with my son, we had an amnio done. I remember the day we got the call. They said everything looked good and we were having a boy. I remember getting off the phone and thinking, "Ok, all we have to worry about now is autism." By then I had met several families - highly educated families who had children with autism. I was terrified of it and terrified that they don't know what causes it.

After he was born, I took a lot of comfort in seeing that my baby gave me good eye contact and loved to snuggle. Phew, no autism signs. But was his need for touch too much? And why couldn't he sleep? I started looking into "why" when he was about 15 months old. He was walking late and while he could talk up a storm, he didn't call me "mama" - like I wasn't separate from him. He also had no interest in food at all. But nothing I could find seemed to fit his odd mix of developmental delays and it was all a big puzzle.

As he got older it became clearer and clearer we were looking at something on the spectrum and by the time he got the diagnosis, as I said, I was ready for it, but that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt and still scare me. And I still ask "how did it happen?" Was it that I was 35 and my husband was 38 when he was born? Was it that he fell from the bed a couple times (rolling off) when he was 5 months old? Was it that my nutrition wasn't good enough? Was it that I was very overweight? That I had gestational diabetes with him? Or was it that he watched a bit of TV when he was 18 months old (Blues Clues)? Or that I just wasn't giving him something that he needed? WHY??? Did he have autism and was it something I could have prevented? Did "I" do this to him?

And no answers for the millions of us parents who have children with autism. One in 88 kids are born with autism now. One in 88!!! Is that a true increase? Or just an increase in finally diagnosing a problem that's been around for eons? I now can name several kids in school that were "odd" that didn't have a diagnosis. They were just different. How many of us have family members we call "eccentric" that really fit the definition today of autistic? There are just so many unanswered questions. And so many of us want to know, "Why my kid?"

So, the other morning while waking up, I heard this report on NPR: autism linked to obese mothers.  Read it please.  At least the article is saying, "this isn't conclusive". But does it explain my child? That and that my husband and I were over the age of 35? And I had gestational diabetes? Did I cause my son to be autistic?

That will haunt me for the rest of my life if this article is true - that my weight and diet and lifestyle is what led to my son having autism. I knew my weight was probably a big factor in me not getting pregnant for over two years. I was between 255-275 when we were trying to conceive. But if my inability - my unwillingness to lose weight is what caused my son to be autistic? Oh. My. God... How can I forgive myself? I might be responsible for this????

It took a health scare to finally get me to get my life in order. It wasn't enough for me that I was experiencing secondary infertility, but what if I would have known about the risks of being overweight and autism? Would that have gotten my act in gear a decade ago? I can't know and I fear probably not, but maybe I would have stopped trying to conceive out of fear.

And I know this is one study and studies are always flawed and it will need to be repeated and repeated to really draw any conclusions, but now the bug is in my ear. My obesity might have caused my precious son to have autism. My inability to care enough about my own body and health could have forever impaired his life. That is a tough one to accept and it will be a heavy spot on my heart forever.

Obesity sucks the life out of you. Yet I allowed it to happen to me. I didn't care enough about myself to deal with it and that makes me sad to think about it. It makes me sad to think of all the people who never care enough about themselves to take care of themselves - ever. But when you start to realize that the weight just doesn't end with 'you' but your loved ones indirectly and directly, it becomes harder and harder to believe in 'fat acceptance'. And I'm saying that as a decades long fatty.

And if I'm responsible for the autism. I'm so sorry, sweet little boy (who turns 7 tomorrow). I didn't know. I really didn't know.

Stats for 4/21/12:

Highest weight: 275  Now: 168.8

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