Tag Archives: autism

“Recovering” from Autism

Today I posted an article over at Easy to Love But Hard to Raise about recent studies focusing on children labeled “bloomers,” kids who were once diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) but have effectively shed their diagnosis by age 8. Could children diagnosed with other disorders be bloomers? What characteristics do bloomer’s parents share? And what’s so special about age 8? Read on to find out.

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What We’re Learning from Twins

This month’s National Geographic cover story, Twins: Alike But Not Alike by Peter Miller, which explores a newer area of scientific research called epigenetics, really got my mental wheels turning. Many of us understand that identical twins have identical DNA sequences, but even these twins are not exactly the same in real life. Some make different choices throughout their lives, such as dress and grooming, hobbies, professions, and what they study in school. Epigenetics is the study of these differences in gene expression and those factors that influence expression, as Miller explains, the result of a combined effect of both nature and nurture. A quote from his article explains it best, “‘Things written in pen you can’t change. That’s DNA,’ says geneticist Danielle Reed. ‘Things written in pencil you can. That’s epigenetics.'”

Photograph by Jodi Cobb from www.nationalgeographic.com

Over the last twelve years, I’ve been acting as a scientist making observations in my own home-made twins study (albeit without a control group). I’ve been living with a pair of fraternal twin boys of my own and observing another pair of fraternal twin girls who also got half their DNA from me when I donated my eggs to their parents. They share a lot of DNA with my boys, but are being raised in a different environment.

I can’t turn off my analytical science brain so I’ve been observing first hand which traits and habits seem to be shared between the children and thus inherited, those influenced by environment. Different than the twins in Miller’s article, our twins are not identical, they are fraternal, sharing only approximately 50% of their DNA, and no more similar to each other than any brother or sister who is not a twin.

Inheritance seems easier to identify for me. My son Tristan looks like me in his face and body type, he ended up with my anxiety, perfectionism, introversion, and academic success. Will got my creative side and love of music and science. Ruby looks like me in the face and already talks like a professor, but Raven inherited my body type, athleticism, and even my early growth rate, already surpassing mine by 2″ at 5′ 6″ in sixth grade.

Growing up, I’d wondered whether I’d inherited or learned some of these strong personality traits. Getting to know my parents as adult humans and observing these biological children as both a scientist and parent, I’ve come to conclude that more and more traits are inherited.

Miller’s article (which you can read in its entirety here) seems to confirm this conclusion. The similarities between the identical Jim Twins, born in 1939 but raised separately and then reunited in 1979 at age 39, is chilling. In addition to expected similarities like height and weight, there were a number of other amazing, yet unexplainable coincidences. Both twins were named James by their adopting families, both had a dog named Toy, both married and divorced a first wife named Linda, and a second wife named Betty. They both named a son James Alan (or Allan), both were volunteer sheriffs, were home carpenters, smoked the same cigarettes, and drank the same beer. I was dumbstruck by the simple possibility that many of the seemingly mundane choices I am making everyday might not be choices at all, but somehow dictated by my DNA.

Miller’s article highlights how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go to understand the factors that truly shape who we are. The studies he mentions of identical twins with differing expression of medical conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and autism seem dumbfounding and yet enlighten us that these conditions are influence both by genetics and environment.

If you haven’t already seen the article, do check it out. The photographs alone of identical twins by Jodi Cobb are alone reason enough.

As a parent, relative, or close friend of twins, what novice scientific observations and conclusions have you drawn about nature versus nurture?

“How to be a Sister” by Eileen Garvin

I had the pleasure of meeting Seattle author Eileen Garvin at her reading and book signing for her memoir, How to be a Sister: A Love Story with a Twist of Autism, at Village Books in Bellingham, WA last weekend. Her book addresses her life growing up the youngest of five with a slightly older sister who suffers with severe autism. Eileen talks about how her relationship with her sister changed over the years and how they were able to forge a new connection as adults after Eileen went away to college for several years.

Eileen was a pleasure to meet and I enjoyed talking with her about how her recent successes with publicity for the book. As the economy has struggled, in general, publishers have cut back their promotion budgets and are expecting authors to do more and more of their own publicity to sell books. Eileen said that her initial sales when her book first came out last year were not what she’d hoped for but, more recently her book has been selling well partially because it was picked up by Target stores.  

I also listened to her recent interview with Rosie O’Donnell on her radio show. It’s a great listen worth checking out. Eileen talks about a section of the book that she also read last week, where she and her sister Margaret and her mother struggled through what most people would consider a fancy dinner in Seattle. I won’t spoil the story, but you must listen to the hilarity yourself.

Check out Eileen’s book in Target stores or on-line. Her memoir is full of wisdom and humor and is worth the read.