Maternal Antibody Related Autism: The Research, not The Guilt
University of California, Davis has been doing a lot of ground-breaking research on autism and the brain lately, but one direction of research, maternal antibodies and fetal brain development, has the media hopping. It seems that in a subset of mothers of children with autism, specific antibodies have been identified in the mother's blood stream. In another research project, though related, it's found that specific antibodies that cross the placenta during pregnancy impact fetal development. The research is sound, and led to a whole new identification of autism, called MAR (Maternal antibody-related) autism.
The research is ground-breaking, because it's a step much like the separation of cancer into specific types: we are no longer looking at one nebulous monster of a diagnosis - now we are starting to understand that different conditions can cause the same behavior. With that breakup, we as parents, educators, clinicians, and activists, can better understand what needs to be done.
Unfortunately, the media has started to place labels such as the following: How a Mother Unwittingly Causes Autism In Her Child. I have a problem with this, because it anthropomorphizes the process, suggesting a conscience decision to "cause" autism as opposed to a condition that leads to autism. It, essentially, lays blame on the parent, specifically the mother, for the condition and by extension the behavior of their child. Mothers, already struggling under the momentous task of trying to get services for their children in increasingly hostile environments (with regards to spending), now have the media feeding the masses with a "it's your fault" label because of a misinterpretation of the facts.
So let's go over the benefits of this research:
1. Possible Bio-marker - this means we can possibly identify almost a quarter of all autism cases based on the prevalence of these antibodies in a mother's body.
2. Research Solutions - solutions can now be researched to help alleviate the worst of autism symptoms, and help better understand targeted therapies
3. Autism is a medical condition - no longer can we see autism as just a behavior issue, caused by bad parenting, too much TV, poor discipline, or random causes. There is a direct cause, it's medical in nature, and that means therapies, tests, evaluations etc. can and should be covered under medical insurance.
The research is there, it's being made, and it's exciting. Let's not start blaming parents because of it, but rather celebrate the progress we are making!