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Which Parent Carries the Autism Gene?

December 15, 2023

As autism rates continue to increase across the world, many researchers are looking into genetic factors that may contribute to an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. This leads to important questions such as: “Does an autism gene exist?” “Can environmental factors play a role in developing autism?” and “Which parent carries the autism gene?”

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Is There a Genetic Component To Autism?

As parents, we often wonder if anything we may have done during our child’s development could have led to an autism diagnosis. Were there any environmental factors to which we may have accidentally exposed our children? Yet, we also have to look at the potential of autism being hereditary.

According to research, both genetic and environmental factors play a part in a child’s risk of developing autism.

While both play a role, the research suggests that genetic factors actually play a stronger role than environmental factors when it comes to the possibility of an autism gene.

This could explain the increased number of children in the same family being diagnosed with autism, such as the case with my two kids and a nephew. But, it also raises the question of which parent carries the autism gene.

Which Parent Carries the Autism Gene?

Many parents are aware that genetics may play a role in the autism diagnosis. But which parent and which gene are the contributors?

According to researchers at UCLA, genetic factors lead to a 50% increased risk of developing autism. The study isolated seven potential autism genes to analyze and determine the child’s risk of developing autism.

While the research suggests an increased risk due to genetic factors, it still doesn’t answer the simple question of which parent carries the autism gene. However, according to research, scientists found a strong genetic component from the father that contributed to an autism diagnosis in siblings.

The research does not conclude the father will carry an autism gene in every case, but it found autistic siblings tend to share their father’s genome at a near double rate compared to the mother’s. It remains unclear how this research will affect autism treatment options moving forward.


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Should Parents Consider Genetic Testing?

With the knowledge that genetic and environmental factors can play a major role in developing autism, what can parents do to prepare themselves and their children? One option is genetic testing.

While there are different types of genetic testing, it’s important to understand there is not a genetic test for autism itself. However, genetic testing could give the person a better understanding of autism. The family could also learn about certain genes and their impact on an ASD diagnosis.

There is some controversy surrounding genetic testing. Some autism advocates argue against testing because of their belief that it focuses too much on the negatives associated with autism and helps society paint autism as a disability rather than a neurodiversity.

Others point to possible discrimination, privacy concerns, and burdens on families. However, research has suggested a majority of parents of children on the spectrum held a favorable view of genetic testing due to identification, early intervention, and treatment.

My wife and I chose to pursue genetic testing with our younger son due to the possibility of Fragile X Syndrome. We wanted answers and a knowledge of how we would need to help guide him in life.

Once confirmed he did not possess the Fragile X chromosome, we stopped pursuing further genetic testing. We had what we needed to know. It’s up to each parent to decide how far they are willing to go with genetic testing if they ever decide to go down that road.

What We’ve Learned

As society learns more about autism, we also learn about a parent’s role in its development. Environmental factors are known to play a role. Still, research suggests genetic mutations are the most common factors in developing autism, and recent research suggests autism is inherited from the father.

What can we do as parents to help our children? Learn and grow together. Work with our children to develop a better understanding of autism going forward. We may not know the direct cause, but we know more about links to autism risk.

FAQs

Q: Do you inherit autism from your mother or father?

A: Despite earlier beliefs about maternal transmission of autism, recent research suggests that autism genes are typically inherited from the father, contributing to a better understanding of the condition’s origins.

Q: Can two autistic parents have a neurotypical child?

A: Research suggests that if autistic parents possess different genetic variations linked to autism, there may be a higher chance of having a neurotypical child.

Q: What are the main causes of autism?

A: Autism spectrum disorder doesn’t have a single cause. Various factors, such as environmental, biological, and genetic elements, contribute to the likelihood of a child developing ASD.

Q: Can you have autism, but your parents don’t?

A: Autism can result from genetic factors not passed down, involving new changes in a child’s genes unseen in their parents. These genetic causes often affect a specific gene or region on a chromosome.

Q: Should I have another baby if my child has autism?

A: A recent study suggests that mothers of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can lower the chances of having another child with ASD by planning a second pregnancy to occur 2.5 to 3 years after the birth of the child with ASD.

References:

Chen, LS., Xu, L., Huang, TY. et al. Autism genetic testing: a qualitative study of awareness, attitudes, and experiences among parents of children with autism spectrum disorders. Genet Med 15, 274–281 (2013).

Environmental and Genetic Factors in Autism Spectrum Disorders: Special Emphasis on Data from Arabian Studies
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6406800/ 

New genetic clues uncovered in the largest study of families with multiple children with autism
https://www.uclahealth.org/news/new-genetic-clues-uncovered-largest-study-families-with

Ronald A, Hoekstra R. A. 2011. Autism Spectrum Disorders and Autistic Traits: A Decade of New Twin Studies. Am J Med Genet Part B 156:255–274.

Sharing parental genomes by siblings concordant or discordant for autism
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666979X23000873?via%3Dihub 

Tick, B., Bolton, P., Happé, F., Rutter, M. and Rijsdijk, F. (2016), Heritability of autism spectrum disorders: a meta-analysis of twin studies. J Child Psychol Psychiatr, 57: 585-595.

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