Genetics or Upbringing?

Many studies have been done to tie autism to genetics. Before my diagnosis, I was stood somewhat firmly in the “environment” camp. As a child, and then as a father, I figured we humans were mostly products of the different environments we were subject to. Now I see that it is not an “either/or” thing.  This is a “both/and” situation.  (Just like with COVID-19 – Yes, it’s a virus that attacks our bodies, AND yes, our bodies vary in the way they respond. I’m trying to have the healthiest body I can to improve my response.)

My mom was dealing with mental illness for a long time before I knew it.  But just because I didn’t know her diagnosis or diagnoses…doesn’t mean that it didn’t impact me or my siblings.  She passed away in the early 2000s, way before I had a diagnosis. My dad had been an only child, and as I look back, some of his decisions about how he handled family matters reflect his upbringing. 

I am not disappointed with my parents from either the genetic or environmental side of the coin. Even if I think they were selfish about some things, I experienced their selflessness in many other ways.  Even if I think that they made some bad decisions…maybe some that still affect me today…I’m not holding any grudges.  I don’t have room in my life, especially because of my faith in a God who has fully forgiven me, to hold on to that kind of animosity.  If my father or mother transmitted a gene to me that caused my autism, that’s the human condition.  If they made any bad choices that now seem like they lacked love and sacrifice toward me, I know they were only human.  My dad did sell his motorcycle when I couldn’t pay my college bill.  He did not divorce my mother. He made sure we all were treated fairly and that we had what we needed.  He cut costs wherever he could…and that’s now part of my DNA, too…for better or worse. 

I get a lot of joy out of time with my dad now.  He tells me stories of the past – some of which I’ve heard many times – and sometimes there is the rare jewel that I don’t remember ever hearing.  Just having him alive in his 80s is a blessing.  I’m not missing out on what we have now, even if things in the past were not perfect.

I don’t claim to know what environmental inputs affected me during my embryonic development, or early childhood. I’m sure they did. My genes were there, and they responded a certain way. Both inputs had something to do with my current atypical neurology, and they continue to. I’ve put the arduous search for the cause of my autism behind me, and now usually enjoy learning how to deal.

Published by Bart Shoaf

Blogging about victories and challenges as a middle-aged man with a late diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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