Child Autism: A Risk For Older Fathers?

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A new study links disorders like autism and schizophrenia to fathers' advanced age.

Since the invention of Viagra, life has been pretty awesome for the older guy. It's been a little like being Catholic: You could go bananas for years, and then settle into the role of a family man around the time you start losing your fastball. It's been a pretty good system, keeping older fellas and younger ladies together, with each something to offer for the other. The arrangement's been perfect because a guy's DNA factory keeps cranking out the sticky stuff late into life.

But a recent study out of Iceland, which found a correlation between autism and the (advanced) age of the father, reminds us that nature does not give out free lunches. Here's the deal: The older a man gets, the more mutations there are in his sperm, affecting the probability of a child ending up with disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. The study found that the age of the mother has no bearing on these disorders. The mutations that occur in sperm, per the Icelandic study, may account for 20 to 30 percent of autism cases. 

But older new fathers, because of their small numbers, can't all account for the tenfold increase in autism cases experienced from 1983 to 1999. My strong suspicion is that our ability to diagnose has become much better — plus, kids who were once just called oddballs (some pun intended) are now painted with the autistic brush.

Our buds at The Daily Beast have a thoughtful piece on how the recent findings are somewhat relieving to mothers. Hannah Brown explains that the study in question takes some heat away from herself and other mothers of autistic children as conventional opinion has blamed the actions, in utero and postpartum, on mommy dearest. In reaction to these icy accusations, Ms. Brown states, "I'd be lying if I didn't admit that it's also a small gift to imagine all the fathers out there who divorced a wife who was the mother of their autistic child and then moved on to start a new family with a younger, 'safer' woman." I'm not sure where we net out on points for honesty vs. points for schadenfreude, but it's a powerful sentiment.

Though I'm not terribly interested in creating someone half like me, me and my 33-year old ball bag may consider freezing some of my swimmers for a rainy day and a fertile common-law wife.

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