Wednesday, November 9, 2011

GBE2 Weekly Challenge: Nature vs. Nurture

Our younger son just received his autism diagnosis this past spring. He is eight years old.

Having suffered a brachial plexus injury in the birthing process that rendered his arm paralyzed for the better part of his first year of life, he certainly is no stranger to therapy. Years of braces and taping and electrical stimulation as well as physical, occupational and even music therapies were all thrown at that injury in an effort to rehabilitate that arm. The focus of all of this was his physical disability, but there were conversations--particularly as he aged--regarding other areas of his development.

This child goes through life daily as though he's consumed 20 cups of high octane coffee. His energy level--AND THE SCREAMING AND THE TALKING--are mind numbing.

"Do you think he has sensory issues?" I remember asking someone as I watched him cover his ears in the noisy fellowship hall of his preschool.

"Certainly not! He is nothing like his brother," was the response I would always get.

I would watch him. I'd watch him with the hawk eye that only a parent can muster for her child, mulling over every aspect of his development. This is the child who looked me DIRECTLY in the eyes the minute he was born. At the time of that birth, his older brother, then almost two, had not done that. This is the child who wore his heart on his sleeve, who celebrated his love for life in every moment he lived. His brother didn't do any of that.

Eight years of watching and quietly questioning, and then came the diagnosis. I had to wonder: is it all just a matter of time regarding the fate of siblings to autism?

When can a parent just exhale, release the fear and concern of a subsequent diagnosis for the sibling? When is it okay to enjoy and ADMIT that perhaps the sibling is typically developing?

In our house, just because our younger son didn't present like his brother didn't mean that he had avoided autism. His autism is very different, and it threw me. I'm the mom who buried herself in everything autism after the first traumatic diagnosis of our older son, and yet, I couldn't quite decide about our younger son.

I've said his whole life: perhaps his personality is more an issue of nurture and not nature.

After all, he was only five weeks old when his brother received his diagnosis. After that, we started receiving roughly 30 hours of in-home therapy. Our house was constantly active, and therapy sessions revolved around bringing our older son out of the world he had created and into our world. There was a lot of excitement! We raced and tickled and whooped for joy over everything.

Perhaps this is why our younger son was so...nutty?

We were so isolated as a family with all the therapy and the low tolerance level of our older son that our younger son had very few opportunities for playdates or exposure to a life that was more typical.

Perhaps this is why his social skill he developed?

I found a way to blame his environment for his "quirks" for a very long time. In the end, it was nature that won. Once he entered elementary school and the social and academic expectations were increased, the gaps in his learning became painfully evident. He couldn't do it on his own. He needed help and lots of it. I felt guilty for not being able to see past his brother's autism in order to more clearly assess his own kind of autism. Perhaps with earlier intervention, we wouldn't be dealing with the barage of services he now has in third grade.

Sigh. Should have. Could have. Would have.

Shouldn't I have known? Couldn't I have intervened? Certainly I would have!!

In our house, we do the best we can do and don't dwell on those thoughts. What good would it do us, anyway?

Medical science today estimates that siblings to autism carry a 1 in 5 chance of receiving a diagnosis themselves. Results about ripple effects--speech, social and motor delays--are variable. It is not uncommon in my community to see a family with multiple diagnoses spread among their children.

Upon hearing that his environment did not bring about his issues--that he did, in fact, have autism, I exhaled. At least we had answers. And then, I turned the table on the nature vs. nuture issue.

Nature might have predisposed this child to his autism, but we sure can do our best to nuture him through it. Nurture with lots of love, support in school, individual therapy when there is a need. In this case, one of the luckiest things our younger son has going for him is his older brother, who by living his own life has trained his parents to rebound quickly and rise to a challenge.

This kid is going to be okay!


  1. Of course this kid is going to be okay! I can totally see why you were temporarily questioning yourself, but am very pleased to see you quickly let that go and moved on to the nurturing thing at which you excel!
    Repeating myself...lucky kids. <3

  2. You know more about nature vs. nurture than most. You're living it and doing a great job with your boys. Your attitude is remarkable! I hope you have a great week and extra time in your "mom cave." ;)

  3. Shoulda, Coulda, and Woulda all need their asses kicked. ;O)

  4. I'm going through something similar to this right now. I really needed to read this. Just <3
    Thank You.

  5. I don't know any parents to autism who have not feared a subsequent diagnosis in siblings. It is a sad and fearful reality.

    Truly, our younger son is so fortunate for our experience learned through his brother. I am thankful for that.

    This topic fit me this week! I'be used the term "Nature vs Nurture" countless times over the years! Thanks, Beth!

  6. That's right. Your attitude is wonderful and your outlook refreshing. So glad you share your story.

  7. Amy, I always enjoy your posts and your insights. It is pretty wonderful to read about your unique parenting experiences and those two boys are incredibly lucky to have a mom like you. It is also very apparent that you are a lucky mom to have your two boys.

  8. by living his own life has trained his parents to rebound quickly and rise to a challenge.