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.