Thursday, 1 July 2010

Twins & Autism



Since It's Twins, Triplets & More Week 2010 and I'm the (sometimes!) proud mother of a pair of fraternal, non-identical, 7 year-old twin girls, I thought I'd try and shed some light on the subject of autism and twins. Autism is much more common in twins than in the general population. Identical and fraternal twins are at a fourteen-fold and four-fold increased risk respectively of having autism. Much is still unknown about the causes of autism, but these statistics are enough to give cause for concern to many parents of multiples.

I remember the controversy over the MMR - which was still at it's height when I had to decide whether or not to vaccinate my babies. I also remember reading stories of mothers who's twins were both profoundly autistic and thinking how horrific it must be. I was ignorant of autism - there isn't much information out there and nobody wants to confront the possibility that it might affect them and their child.

In the end, the decision over the MMR was made for me. Mya, our (non-autistic twin) contracted bacterial meningitis and was critically ill in hospital. Seeing how quickly these illnesses can claim a child, convinced me that the risk of contracting a fatal disease and having a dead child was worse than the possibility of autism- even though it has still not been definitely proven that there is a link between the MMR and autism.

Now I see autism from the another perspective.

Our daughter Lyla was diagnosed with autism at the age of four.

Autism is  developmental, neurological condition which compromises a person's ability to understand and participate in social situations and to deal with everyday interactions and occurences. A person with autism may also suffer significant disturbance in the way the perceive their senses, smell, taste, touch, sight, which may be distressing. It is therefore common for people affected by autism to live with a constant high degree of anxiety which can impact their behaviour significantly.

In hindsight, it's obvious to me that she was born with autism. She couldn't feed as a baby- a classic sign, she tantrummed constantly as a toddler, (which I put down to the terrible-twos), from the moment she first saw TV, it was like baby-crack and every night from birth, she screamed for hours at bedtime. It was never easy, but dealing with baby twins wasn't a walk in the park, so  I put most of Lyla's difficult behaviour down to that.

Being the mother of twins equipped me in some ways for parenting a disabled child. The shock of two babies screaming 24/7 soon made me calm down about the peripheral stuff- organic baby milk, washable nappies, weaning etc. I binned the rulebooks, relaxed and did it my own way.

Having an autistic child is a bit like this. Readers of this blog will know that often life as a parent of an autistic child is no picnic. Life is chaotic and unpredicatable. Only on Monday, Lyla tried to stab me with a carving knife. This was part of a week-long meltdown, where she completely trashed our house (and us) and which we've now started to unravel and deal with.

Having twins, where one of them is affected by autism creates a special dynamic between them. Lyla lacks social skills and the ability to play, which can be frustrating for them both, but they've found their own way of communicating and playing together. They used to speak to eachother in a special, secret twin language until the age of three- this is a recognised phenomen called cryptophasia. In many ways however, they are very different, but despite this they are very close and care about eachother a great deal and Mya is very protective of Lyla. There is a competitive element as Lyla necessarily gets a lot of attention and Mya has not been above mimicking autistic behaviours to get attention! But all our kids our human beings, disabled or enabled, with as much right to have a fulfilling life as anyone else. And having Lyla in our family has helped Mya develop into an extremely caring, emotionally intelligent young girl.

Autism is lifelong, but not a life sentence.

Our kids are deeply loved by us. Challenging yes, but my challenge is to help people see Lyla for the wonderful, loving person that she is.
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