Mar 02, 2012 0 Share

Like Mother, Like Son?


Photo illustration of multiple images of author and her son.
Artwork by Michele Langlo

With the advances in research being made in finding what causes autism, more and more evidence is being discovered that points to genetics as a key factor.

Through the years of witnessing Cody engage in some peculiar behaviors, I used to find it disturbing that I myself have exhibited some of those same behaviors—some in the past, but also some in the present. Did my son’s condition come from me?

Although I think I always knew I suffered from OCD, I wasn’t officially diagnosed with it until I was in my early 40s. I could not go to bed without checking the doors at least five times to make sure they were locked. It was a compulsion to check the burners on the stove at least three times before I left the kitchen when cleaning up after the evening meal. If things are out of place in my house, the anxiety that sets in used to be unbearable. If I came home and the house was in disarray and I was too tired to clean it up, I would spiral into a dark depression. When at work, if I was three cents off on the bank reconciliation I could not stop looking for it until I found it. When looking for my error my mood swung from extreme panic to tearful distress in the beat of a heart.

My doctor prescribed medication that eased my symptoms tremendously. I was finally able to focus and to feel stress-free most of the time. It was during this time that I started noticing how similar some of Cody’s behaviors were to my own.

If he doesn’t have his one special coffee cup in the morning he is troubled until he finds it. If there is someone in our house with whom he is unfamiliar, he is overwhelmed with nervous energy until they are gone. If he is drawing on his computer and something isn’t just right, he will erase it over and over until it looks the way he wants it to look. If he cannot make it right, he becomes frustrated and angry for the next several hours.

Cody and I also exhibit several commonalities in how we cope with stress. Rocking is a form of vestibular stimulation for both of us. It evokes a calm and peaceful feeling for me and it seems as though it does for Cody also. My son and I are both pacers. I notice myself doing it a lot when I’m on the phone. Cody does it when he’s bored. Neither of us stands still very well. In church I often notice we sway from side to side—not enough to be terribly noticeable to others, but yet there is subtle movement, and oh Heaven’s yes, it must be in unison!

It is pretty common for individuals with PDD not to be highly verbal. Cody is no exception to that rule. But is this the nature of the disorder or is it by choice? Though I feel my vocabulary skills are quite adequate, I’m not a big talker. I don’t really do idle chit-chat. Social situations for me are terribly uncomfortable. And when I do talk, I much prefer one on one conversation than a group discussion. And wouldn’t you know it … Cody’s pretty much the same way!

As I said earlier, it used to bother me that I saw the same peculiar traits in my son that I saw in myself. But now it is something I embrace. Who is to really say that just because one possesses a particular behavior that is different from the neurotypical population that it meets the criteria as a negative behavior? Is it so terrible that my son has a favorite coffee cup or that I am most at peace with myself if my house is clean? Neither my son nor I are what society would classify as social butterflies. So should we be stereotyped as strange because we both prefer the more intimate interaction of one on one conversing rather than large gatherings where conversation takes place in increments instead of whole dialogue? If so, who is it that made the rule that everyone must maintain the status of what society deems as socially normal? I would like to encourage them to consider the possibility that it may be high time the rules were changed.