Once a couple has a child with autism, they often agonize over whether to have a second child. After the diagnosis and then getting services, and experiencing progress people may get back to some semblance of a normal life. It’s common to begin thinking about having another child, as planned before knowing their first child had autism. Then the doubts come up, and they don’t go around equally. Sometimes the mother has more than the father, and sometimes the other way around.
This question comes up frequently in our psychology practice at Alternative Choices. It is, of course, only relevant to families who feel comfortable with birth control. The question is very complex. Families with one autistic child do have an increased risk of having a second child with the disorder – and even a typical child may have a tough time coping with the reality of a sibling on the autism spectrum.
You are not alone, as an individual or as a couple, in facing the risks of what seems like a genetic lottery. Recent research now confirms that the risk of having a child who will be eventually diagnosed on the autistic spectrum is higher, especially if the first child is a boy. While this is nothing to take lightly, still the chances of having a typical child are far greater. One thing is sure: these children are different as individuals in terms of their functional levels and their personalities. They are also quite connected to each other as siblings.
Some parents cope well, and others are overwhelmed beyond my ability to describe in words. Some have no regrets and love and cherish each child as unique and special in the universe. Others wish they had never tried to have another child and wonder what might have been. There are also couples who cannot make up their minds as well as couples deeply divided on the issue. There are also many people who had a typical child and feel “brand new.”
With all this in mind, we try to help people talk openly and honestly about their reasons for wanting another child and about how they would feel if they had another child with special needs. Also, it is essential to consider what kind of life that hoped-for typical child might have. The most important thing is to not push your partner one way or the other while being really honest about how you imagine you would deal with a second child with autism as well as how you could deal with each other without trying to have a second child.
Some people resent each other and even if they stay married they begin to live separate emotional lives. This is why it is vital to come to a joint decision.
Another way to look at life in your situation is to put all of your parenting energy in the child you have. The joy and satisfaction can make you happy for a lifetime if you are secure with this decision for yourself and your marriage. Some people go the adoption route which is also not without risks. So you have a lot to think about. Definitely, there is no right or wrong decision.
What’s important is how you get there. If you still can’t arrive at a decision you are both comfortable with, you might want to consider consulting with a mental health professional with experience helping people sort out these kinds of dilemmas. Having a child with a disability such as autism certainly teaches how little we are in control of. What we do have control over is the decisions that we can make when we do so with an open and clear mind.