Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Nine years ago, when I was first consulting with obstetricians who specialize in high risk pregnancies to talk about my wish to get pregnant, not one of the three doctors whom I visited mentioned any connection between a mother having Type 1 diabetes and her child having autism spectrum disorder. I can’t blame those doctors; it is only in the last few years, as more research is being conducted to try and figure out the current autism epidemic, that such a link has been found.

Autism is a complex neurological disorder that affects the connections between various regions of the brain, impacting a person’s ability to produce and process language and to read the nonverbal social cues that are an otherwise intuitive part of human communication. Autism is considered to be a spectrum disorder because it affects people in a range of ways, from most severe impairment to a more mild condition known as Asperger syndrome. Wherever a person falls on the autism spectrum, living with a neurological challenge is not an easy thing.

My seven-year-old son was diagnosed with mild autism at age three. His diagnosis came after a few years of visiting different specialists who were investigating his speech delay. The first specialists we visited, along with our pediatrician who saw my son frequently, dismissed autism because of my son’s smiling and natural interaction with me.

Now doctors know more — that children with autism easily relate to their loved ones and want to connect with others; it is not the desire to be isolated that makes people with autism engage in repetitive behaviors. Rather, that behavior comes out of seeking safety and soothing in a world that is too often too loud and confusing. I know this behavior well from when my son gets overwhelmed.

Eventually we received our son’s autism diagnosis and began a cognitive-behavioral therapy called RDI — Relationship Development Intervention — that has helped him to grow developmentally and become more comfortable in the world. Raising a child with autism is a marathon — not a sprint — and my husband and I take delight in each developmental milestone that my son reaches.

I wish that I would have known, back when I was considering pregnancy, that there is a connection between a mom’s Type 1 diabetes and a child developing autism. Last year, researchers at Johns Hopkins University published a study showing that mothers with Type 1 diabetes have up to a three times greater chance of having a child who has autism. (See the article here for more information.)

I wish that I had known that information — not because I wouldn’t have wanted to bring a child with autism into the world, but because it would have made me more open to the initial possibility that my child might have autism. I wouldn’t have wasted time visiting experts who misdiagnosed my child.

I am so grateful to be a mom of two beautiful children and consider their births to be the greatest blessings in my life.

Are you a mom with Type 1 who has a child with autism? I imagine in years to come, as this research is communicated, that we will be able to find each other and create communities of support.

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Comments
  1. Hi!

    I was wondering if it’s the same for men?
    Thanks!

    Posted by Olivier Caron |
  2. The research that exists points to Type 1 in the mother, not the father.

    Posted by Gabrielle |
  3. I work in a peds hospital and have seen several autistic children who have developed type 1 DM.
    Are you aware of any increased risk for the child?

    My best regards to you,
    Jackie Kelley RN MS CDE

    Posted by Jackie Kelley |
  4. Hi Jackie,

    I haven’t come across that research but my guess is that as research dollars increase towards figuring out the cause(s) of autism, the connection between autism and autoimmune diseases will be investigated.

    Your experience also points to the way that with 1 in 150 children being diagnosed with autism in the US, every person in the pediatric medical field needs training on how to understand autism and connect with parents and kids. Every pediatric doctor, nurse, tech, etc., may meet a child with autism any day.

    All best,
    Gabrielle

    Posted by Gabrielle |
  5. Hi, I find it interesting. I would have first thought you would be nervous that your child could develop diabetes.

    Instead, they ended up with ASD.

    I on the other hand have a 12 year old boy with High Function Austism and a 9 year old Type 1 Diabetic.
    I have the link of having Rheumatoid Arthritis since I was 16. All our diseases are auto-immunne.. Not sure what to tell you…
    Weird.

    Posted by Stephanie |
  6. My 14 year old has Asperger’s (male). My 10 year old (male) was just diagnosed with T1DM. I’m worried that my 6 year old (female) will be next.

    Posted by Ande |
  7. I have type 1 diabetes and my son has aspergers. I have another son who does not show signs of autism; he is 3 1/2 years old. I wasn’t aware of an increased risk either. No one in my family has Type 1 diabetes or autism.

    Posted by Meg |
  8. My sister has RA. My son has type 1 and also has a language disorder that falls on the spectrum. I find this very interesting.

    Posted by Stacie |

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