Did your autistic child drive you BAPpy?

The puzzle piece ribbon is used by some autism...

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It’s well known that parents of autistic children, often exhibit autistic traits, such as those identified in the Broad Autism Phenotype test (which I have written about previously). But is this a reflection of existing autistic tendencies, or did we take on these traits as an understandable and predictable consequence of having to deal with an autistic child? For example, was a mother always “rigid”, or did she become that way (or more so that way) in response to dealing with a child who strongly desires and exhibits such rigidity?

These types of questions are raised in this very interesting post from SFARI, called “Parent Trap.” At the very least, their concerns about the effects of raising a challenging child and the relevance of gender roles, are important considerations for any researcher trying to accurately gauge the autistic traits of a parent of an autistic child.

So with such issues in mind, I decided to re-do the BAP test, this time from the perspective of myself pre-children. Specifically, my early to mid twenties, when I was at university. And compare that to the result I got taking the test for who I am currently, as recorded in that previous post of mine. I have very strong recall of those university years, so it wasn’t hard to do what I consider to have been a fairly accurate job of answering the BAP questions.

These were the compared results:

After children: Rigid Personality, 59 aloof, 96 rigid and 45 pragmatic

Before children: Rigid Personality, 50 aloof, 81 rigid and 47 pragmatic

Which is to say, not a lot of difference. I still sit above the cut-off point in regards to rigidity, but according to the graph I only just sit above it pre-children, and sit clearly above it post-children. Whether the very act of becoming a mother – regardless of having an autistic child – would have made me so much more rigid, is unknown of course.

I think – based on my own reflection and experiences – that my son’s autism has made me a much more rigid person, specifically because of his autism. But that lack of flexibility, and need for control and predictability in my life, was already there anyway. What caused that original rigidity, is also up for grabs. I can see how it could have come about in direct response to various childhood experiences I went through, but again maybe that just bought out what was already a strong tendency within my genetic make-up.

My increased rigidity sits in line with observations spoken about in “Parent Trap”; that mothers tend to be – and be seen as – rigid, and fathers are seen as aloof (more aloof than they think they are). I’d agree too that my husband was already quite aloof but became more so after our autistic son. I’d have to try to get him to take the test for his younger self and see if it shows such an increase.

I think too there is benefit and insight from letting someone close to you (a spouse in particular) take the BAP test for you and see how their perception of you differs from how you perceive yourself. In fact, once I’d finished typing that very thought I decided to do the BAP test for my husband. He’d previously done it for my original post, and got “neurotypical”, which surprised me at the time; I expected him to at least be aloof. Having just taken it for him in his absence, his result has changed to:

Aloof personality, 100 aloof, 57 rigid and 70 pragmatic. (ie, above the cut-off point on aloofness, and thereby not neurotypical).

So I did it for him pre-children too, again the results showed far more aloofness after having children. The pre-children results were:

Neurotypical:  81 aloof, 56 rigid and 57 pragmatic.

Personal conclusions from all that test-taking then, are as follows: It appears that having an autistic child has enhanced “autistic traits” in both myself and my husband; making my rigidity, and his aloofness, more pronounced. Our results in regards to my being rigid, and him being aloof, aligns with the study looked at by SFARI. Whether those traits are autistic as such, or natural reactions to the challenge of raising an autistic child, is unclear, though I suspect there’s a bit of both going on there.

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7 Responses to Did your autistic child drive you BAPpy?

  1. Autism is an endocannabinoid deficiency. As people get older, the same happens. All people become more rigid as they get older, most people become more aloof too (wisdom may come with age but humility not as often as you’d think).

    Have you got a fully NT family who you can use as a control group?

    Almost certainly the testing you did was fun, have you had a go at guessing your error margins?

    • I did think about whether the increased rigidity and aloofness were reflections of just getting older. So hard to control for all these factors, and I suppose that difficulty ultimately weakens the value of the BAP test; that it’s measuring something other than autistic traits in a meaningful way (?)

      I do know some NT families I could use as controls, I’d just have to convince them to take the test(s) to get some results for comparison. Good suggestion.

      And yes I understand my small sample size and the subjectiveness of the test-taking! That is why I always take these things – and any conclusions I draw from them – with a rather large grain of salt. It’s interesting, and thought-provoking, but it’s not necessarily identifying objective truths (I did discuss some of those concerns in my original post on the BAP test).

      Thanks for your comment.

  2. Sharon says:

    Ha ha I was thinking recently about how the more time I spend with Harri and the other ASD kids at his therapy centre the more quirks I seem to be developing (or perhaps simply becoming more aware of).
    I drank way too much at Uni to have any reliable recall 🙂

    • he he, the delicate balance: Drink enough to forget what you did, but not enough to forget what you studied. Or is that, drink enough to forget that you studied, but not forget what you did..? I forget 😀

  3. Jon Brock says:

    This reminds me of a school I went to that catered for kids with autism and blind kids. The headteacher said that he didn’t actually know which of the teachers worked with the autistic kids. But he could tell.

    I reckon if you wanted to study this properly and do a before and after, newby teachers in special schools would be a good surrogate for parents (who you can only really identify retrospectively). At least it would show the extent to which autism really is “contagious” as the headteacher put it!

  4. Aspergirl Maybe says:

    Ahh, the old nature versus nurture question! Very interesting post. I tried twice to retake the quiz and found it very difficult to keep myself centered in the right time period, so I gave up.

    A similar question could be raised as to whether the fact that I was diagnosed with depression only after having a child means that I didn’t have it before. My understanding on that one from conversations with my therapist is that a depressive episode which is situational generally resolves either on its own or with treatment within 1-2 years, whereas a depression that is more systemic doesn’t resolve. Perhaps you could say the same thing here – give the person some therapy (either professional or simply respite opportunities) and see what happens.

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