Mother and Daughter Together on the Spectrum

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Parents, Autistic Children Share Special Bond That Spans Decades

David Bodkin says his wife is akin to a translator in a foreign country as they raise their autistic daughter.

“Amy sometimes knows what Jessica is thinking before she does,” he said. “She’s able to explain why Jessica does some things and acts certain ways.”

There’s a special reason for that.

Amy Bodkin, 29, a school counselor turned stay-at-home mom, has Asperger’s syndrome, a disorder on the autism spectrum.

They are among a growing number of parents and children finding links as they jointly live with autism or autism-related disorders.

Dr. Teresa Mahaffey, a pediatrician, at Growing Child Pediatrics in Pace, Fla., said the parent-child genetic connection is a relatively new concept.

“Now that people with autism are having children, it’s going to be interesting to see if their kids have it or not,” said Mahaffey, whose 20-year-old son has autism.

Take one example of the link between Amy and Jessica Bodkin, 4.

When Amy Bodkin was a child, she liked to press on her eyes repetitively because it was visually stimulating.

Jessica also started sticking her fingers between her eye and socket.

“It makes the sun come up,” Jessica said.

With her own history, Amy Bodkin immediately understood.

Autism is a disorder that affects the normal development of social and communication skills.

Asperger’s is considered a high-functioning form of autism in which people affected have trouble interacting socially, repeat behaviors and often are clumsy. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders because linguistic and cognitive development are not affected.

Amy Bodkin studied the behavior of people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome when she was enrolled at Mississippi State University for her master’s degree in psychometry, which is a discipline of psychology and education.

Those studies cleared up a lot of questions she had about her own behavior.

David Bodkin is grateful for that insight.

“Amy is able to say, ‘She can overcome her disability like me,’ as opposed to a normal parent who might say, ‘My child is disabled and will never be normal,’” he said.

Complex disorder

Alycia Halladay is director of environmental research for Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization.

The likelihood of Asperger’s or autism being passed from parent to child has not been researched much, she said.

“However, we know from sibling studies and twin studies that autism is a complex disorder with genetic and environmental causes,” she said.

Amy Bodkin and her daughter have other things in common besides “stimming” — defined as repetitive body movements like touching one’s eyes or pacing.

For example, both are visual learners rather than auditory learners.

“Sometimes, if you go into a room to talk to me, I might hear and understand you,” Amy Bodkin said. “But sometimes, I’ll hear a jumble of sounds, like the adults on the ‘Peanuts’ cartoons. I have to get you to repeat it and focus a little better. Jessica does the same thing.”

She said her advice for parents of kids on the autism spectrum is to “listen with your eyes.”

“They’re going to tell you things they need. And if you’re not listening, you’re going to miss it,” she said.

“When I was 6, I really wanted to take ballet. As it turns out, it would have been a perfect outlet for me as far as sensory issues go. I did end up taking ballet when I went to college. For the first time, I was able to think about one thing at one time. I had never been able to do that.”


One thought on “Mother and Daughter Together on the Spectrum

    Missus Tribble said:
    06-15-2012 at 4:44 am

    I still find it astonishing that my own autism was diagnosed by my own autistic son – it was his diagnosis that diagnosed the entire family.

    It does, also, explain why – to me – many of his behaviours seemed perfectly normal, because I used to do them too!

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