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Autism Often Deters Parents From Having More Kids

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Couples who have a child diagnosed with autism appear significantly less likely to have additional children, researchers say, no matter how many kids they already have.

In a study looking at health records on more than 55,000 California families — 19,710 of which included a child with autism — researchers found that parents’ reproductive behavior was similar in both groups of families until the time children with autism typically start to show symptoms of the disorder. At that point, however, a third of families with a child on the spectrum stopped having more kids.

The trend of what’s known as “reproductive stoppage” held true whether the child with autism was the family’s first or later born, the study found.

“While it has been postulated that parents who have a child with ASD may be reluctant to have more children, this is first time that anyone has analyzed the question with hard numbers,” said Neil Risch of the University of California, San Francisco, who worked on the study which was published online Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

The finding that many families choose to stop having children after learning that their son or daughter is on the spectrum may mean that current estimates on the odds of having a second child with autism could be unreasonably low, researchers said.

When reproductive stoppage was taken into account, the study found that the odds of having a second child with autism rose to 10.1 percent for full siblings, an increase over the 8.7 percent estimate found when families who stop having children are not factored in.

The study did not examine why parents of children with autism are more likely to stop having kids, but researchers said it could be due to concerns about having another child with the disorder or that parents feel they are unable to care for additional children after having one on the spectrum already.

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Comments (11 Responses)

  1. Aaryk Noctivagus says:

    Perhaps the researchers may consider that it may be that the parents have less opportunity to have another child due to privacy issues caused by some children on the Spectrum. A lot of parents find their private times as a couple curtailed by the needs and/or behavioural difficulties of the Autistic child – rather than from a ‘choice’.

    I think before presumptions are made, this common consideration ought to be statistically and thoroughly explored. I think it more likely than… ‘Oh no we have an autistic child… we must make sure we have no more children!’

  2. Amy H (aspie mom) says:

    No time! I was so glad that my first child (not on the spectrum) was older and fairly independent. I could not imagine providing the time each child needs to yet a third after my second child was born and on the spectrum. In addition, since she was not diagnosed until she was about 4, we did not know the cause of her various issues. Another factor to be considered is age – I had actually already planned not to have any more children, even before she was born, so the autism was really the deciding factor for me (although I believe it would have been, had I been younger, and also if she had been my first).

  3. frank Tetto says:

    I have a daughter, who sustained a brain injury at age 12. She was not born with a disability. When she sustained her injury, my youngest child at home mentioned is me was just short of his 6th birthday. My oldest son at home was 4 days away from his sixteenth birthday. I also have two adult sons who were
    living and are living on their own.
    The reason, I mention all of the above is to outline possible reasons parents with a child with disability are less likely to not have more children follow.

    1) Financial….Parents with a child with disability are usually under employed or one parent does not work at all.. There are few supports for children and adults with disability.

    2) No time for amorous adventures. It takes much more time and dollars to raise a child with disability. Maybe, due to the high cost of raising a child with disability, one or both parents take on a second job for needed income. Underemployed parents may not be able to work a career job because of the needed time for Doctor appointments, therapies, and care-giving.

    3) Stress!!!! Need I say more.

    4) Chance of having another child with disability or even a “normal.” child. Children are expensive. Special needs,children are very expensive.

  4. Betsy says:

    As a parent of an now adult child with the dx of autism & intellectually disability and a daughter with mild dyslexia and being an preschool occupational therapist I wasn’t taking the chance of seeing another child struggle like my oldest son has with his disability. So, we adopted our youngest two children instead of having four biological children. We have found adopting just as challenging.

    I have seen an increase in the number of families with multiple children with severe autism many come from families where the children are close in age and they probably didn’t realize they had a child with autism before they decided whether to have another child.

  5. Jackie says:

    To the above posters…TRUE, TRUE, and TRUE! My autistic daughter – second and final child – has been my “tornado” since she was born. Who has time for more kids during a tornado?

  6. kerriemay says:

    I think it interesting that this study looked at California families…what is disturbing to me are some major facts left out of this study.
    California is one of the worst states for autism services for school age kids. I’ve heard complaints for years from parents who have had to move from county to county just to get basic services for their child, some have even moved out of state in sheer desparation!
    California state insurance is horrendou, making parents wait YEARS just to get their child evaluation, never mind support services or health needs met…
    I think this study neglects to look at economic backgrounds and it’s biased as a result. Look at all of the states and each circumstances of each study participant before making such propograndizing statements.
    You certainly aren’t speaking for the parents in Massachusetts!

  7. Anne Gajerski-Cauley says:

    I was 35 when my oldest son [severely autistic] was born. When he was diagnosed at age 3, I was about to deliver my third son. I went on to have 2 more miscarriages and finally gave birth to a fourth son when my autistic son was 8. I looked ahead to the distant future and saw a larger family meant possibly more family resources when I would be an old woman, even though it meant more physical work in the early years of our family. I have also homeschooled my four boys, which has deepened the family time we have had together. I have never [and probably will never] have a tidy home, but my severely autistic son is one of my joys of life. He is the only one who takes the initiative in giving me hugs and kisses and because he is non-verbal, I never get talk back or ” attitude ” from him. In Canada, the divorce rate of parents with a child with autism is 87%. The stress of looking after such a child presents a terrible strain. I feel very sorry for those parents who have to go it alone, who are trying to make a living and keep up with meals, laundry and appointments and be present to the other children they have. The feeling of being overwhelmed would prompt any sane person from any further begetting of children. I would think that would be obvious to researchers. My hat is off to all moms, dads and siblings living with this.

  8. Susan Yuan says:

    The more likely reason is the instability of supports for the person who will become an adult in the future, and the likelihood that parents will continue to provide a major part of the support, whether that be what the individual wants or not. I believe if adequate supports were available, there would be more opportunity to enjoy the person’s uniqueness and go on to have other children.

  9. Cheryl J. says:

    We engaged in “reproductive stoppage” for the exact reasons in the article. We had concerns of having another child on the spectrum and had issues of whether or not we could devote enough time to another child considering our 1st and only child does indeed take so much time and energy. I never wanted to be a single child parent. I always wanted more than one. I still have that longing (for our daughter to have a sibling, for me to have another child) that was never fulfilled.

  10. marie camp says:

    It is the couple choice and we took the roll of the dice. Our oldest is a 33yr.old non verbal autistic and our other 2 children are normal. We have been lucky but unfortunately some are not. The road of having a disabled child is very difficult and I give all these parents a big round of applause in whatever you choose what you think is best.

  11. Cheryl says:

    I don’t have children. That said, I don’t understand why anyone who has a child with a disability would want to have another … My life is very full and I’m thankful for every day. I’ve never regretted my choice not to have children and wish that more people would find happiness and contentment in who they are and what they have … I feel sorry for anyone that thinks they need to have a child to fill some “void” or to solidify a relationship. It is also my sincere hope that a cure is found for Autism. I’ve seen how difficult it is for the child and the families.

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