Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Weighty Matter - Correlation & Causation & Autism - Part 1

Hello Aspierations Friends,

I am sorry to say that I did not reach my target this year of blogging every day in the month of April for Autism Awareness and Acceptance. This disappoints me and also bothered me so much that I almost didn't write again tonight out of embarrassment over my shortcoming.

Then I realized how lame and ridiculous that would be.

It sort of fits in with other patterns in my life I've had some challenges with.  For example... losing weight. Being at a healthy weight that I feel comfortable with has been a struggle since before I entered Kindergarten.  Part of the problem back then had to do with very selective...also known as VERY PICKY eating behavior.

Back when I was three, I apparently only wanted to eat peanut butter sandwiches.  No jelly. Just peanut butter. I was rather adamant about my preference and should another plate of food be placed in front of me, I would not eat it or I would retch.  As such, by the time I got into Kindergarten, I weighed 75 pounds. Fortunately I was one of the tallest in the class but still, definitely overweight and ripe for teasing.

The doctors had told my mom that I would grow out of my picky eating but the only thing I ended up growing out of was my clothes.  As such, once I tipped that 75 pound mark, my parents tried a different direction. I still remember a major meltdown I had back when I was 4.  That's for another blog...

Fortunately, I did eventually end up branching out into other food selections, some of them even healthy choices. Fortunately I was also a tomboy that loved sports so once I started eating a larger variety of food choices (i.e. 4 or 5 things instead of 1 or 2) and combined that with lots of running around and being active, I lost weight.  By 1st grade I was still one of the tallest kids in the class but my height and weight was more proportionate. The "fat kid" label had already been stamped inside my head but the body on the outside no longer matched what I thought I looked like on the inside.

I'd like to add some pictures in here so you can see what I mean but right now I can only find this one.

1st Grade - I'm the gal with braids and a red shirt, third from the left on the top row. It's one of the only times in my life I have sported what is anything close to a tan in a photo!

I need to find my individual Kindergarten photo one of these days and add it as a comparison.  

Funny thing is that I didn't start this blog off to be about my weighty issues with weight and yet here I am. Interesting... During a private bible study I was doing at home this afternoon I thought about this issue in depth  so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that it found its way into my writing. 

Did anyone see the recent article which links obesity in mothers with autism? Yes? Well it ticked me off because offshoots of the original UC Davis article (which really focused on women that were overweight that had diabetes) were often written in such a way to imply that yet again, mothers who are overweight during pregnancy are to "blame" for if their children "get autism".  A number of spin-off articles were similar and didn't even include the diabetes information even though that was a central part of the study. Basically, a number of the spin-offs, "summaries", etc just said something along the lines of "obesity in mothers while pregnant" linked to "autism".

Now before I am corrected, I know that the original article didn't literally say C-A-U-S-E or it is the pregnant mother's F-A-U-L-T but in some of those spin-offs, there was definitely some in-between the lines stuff going on and if you read the comments section under a number of those articles, they usually included some mean-spirited and self-righteous comments. I am not linking to the spin-off articles because I don't want to promote the continued negativity but if you googled, you could easily find them if you were so inclined.

I think that during a month that we should be promoting Autism ACCEPTANCE, is it really necessary to go and alienate people by writing this in such a way that the public is going to respond with almost anything but kindness? 

1) You get some women that say, "I wasn't FAT / OBESE / CHUBBY when I had my kid and he/she still has autism."  (emphasis on the word FAT or OBESE with a hint of a tone that isn't very accepting of people with weight challenges) I personally believe that if you want to be accepted or you want your child to be accepted, belittling others is not the way to go.  

2) You get some people nodding their heads in discernment at every overweight mother who has a child on the autism spectrum.  Maybe you're not a "refrigerator mom" but you spend too much time in the refrigerator! (The implication being that you may have CAUSED this through your weakness and lack of self-control.) Do we really want women who should be gaining weight during pregnancy to have extra stress-induced anxiety?

3) You get women who ARE overweight and have challenges with emotional overeating feeling guilty and hating on themselves. Instead of "shaming" people into losing weight which seems to be a sick fascination by the American culture, by hating on them, they are much more likely to internalize that hatred and be unkind to themselves.

4) You take away from the point that even if there is a link for SOME women that are overweight to have a child with autism, there is not a link with ALL women.

4a) Some women that are overweight will give birth to children with autism.
4b) Some women that are underweight will give birth to children with autism.
4c) Some women that are "a normal weight" will give birth to children with autism.

Is the "weight" issue something else that really needs to be sensationalized so that insecure people can pretend to feel better about themselves by trying to make other people feel less secure?

Incidentally, if you're wondering if I'm a bit outspoken about all of this because I am overweight, please know that my tone comes from a place of love and acceptance.  However for those curious, for the record, I weighed about 150 pounds less when I gave birth to Ryan than when I gave birth to our first son, Justin.  I did not have diabetes with either son nor do I have it now. Both are on the autism spectrum, our oldest with Asperger's and our youngest with Autism.  

I am diagnosed on the autism spectrum and although they have never been diagnosed, I am 99.9% sure that some of my birthfamily (I'm adopted) is there too.  Oddly enough, some of the family who adopted me is on the spectrum as well but that's another interesting story. (Mathematicians... what are the odds that I would be adopted in 1967 into a family where there were autism spectrum ties?)

The point of the weight thing... and the vaccine thing... and the environmental thing... and all the other "things" that people are looking for as a cause is that when you are writing or reading an article and you are critically trying to think or share an opinion with others that you remember this:

Correlation does not equal and should not imply causation!  (Scientifically and mathematically speaking... now if you're going to talk gossip rags and public opinion... you may have people positing quite a different direction.)

This is so important to keep in mind... so important.

I'll even say it again.

Correlation does not equal and should not imply causation! 

Another thing that is important is that hating on people that are overweight who have children with autism or putting fear into the lives of women who are pregnant that if they eat an extra bon bon or two and if their baby does end up having autism it was "their fault" is destructive, judgmental and selfish. It takes eyes away from acceptance and love for those on the autism spectrum and puts them straight on intolerance and ignorance and the blame game.  

But you might ask, what if there is a correlation?  I do happen to know some overweight women who have children with autism?  

Well, there are correlations with a lot of things. If there is a correlation, it is important to understand what the link might be but definitely not to jump to conclusions or imply the correlation is the ultimate cause.

For example:

I have reddish auburn hair and brown eyes. 

My husband has dark brown (salt and pepper now) hair and green eyes.

Our youngest son with autism has blonde hair and blue eyes.

What does that mean?  Does it mean that redheaded and brown eyed women who mate with dark haired, green eyed men are more likely to give birth to a child with blonde hair and blue eyes?  Of course not!

Does it mean that redheaded and brown eyed women who mate with dark haired, green eyed men are more likely to give birth to a child with autism?  

No... no it doesn't.
Regarding the blue eyes, think genetics... somewhere in our DNA... 
It was in our genetic code for Ryan to have blonde hair and blue eyes. 

What were the odds? Hmm....

Does it mean there was something in his genetic code to be on the autism spectrum? A genetic predisposition? Something that may have triggered it? 

I'll tell you one thing... it wasn't the bon bons.  I don't even like bon bons.

There is a lot more to talk about here so as we're getting close to midnight, I'm going to call this part 1 and continue part 2 a second day.

Please feel to chime in below!

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