Dear Dr. K: I am a 34-year-old woman married to a man more than 20 years my senior. Our first child, a son born four years ago, is autistic. I have heard that older fathers are more likely to have autistic children. Is this true?
Dear Reader: When I was in medical school, I spent a summer working with autistic children and will never forget the experience. The children seemed so distant from everyone — others their own age, the health professionals around them and, of course, their parents. They were in worlds of their own. They often appeared happy in those worlds. But in failing to connect with people around them, from my perspective they were missing one of the most important parts of being alive — in particular, the ability to receive love.
What was even more distressing was that theories about autism placed a lot of blame on the parents. How the parents interacted with the child was thought to have caused the autism. As a result, parents often had a layer of guilt placed on top of the unimaginable suffering of feeling that their child was lost to them. In contrast, it seemed to me that these children were probably born different, and how their parents treated them had nothing to do with it.
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