Autism and Type 1 Diabetes Connection

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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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