Three of the Hutchens children have idiopathic autism.
Joan Hutchens and her husband have five children, and live in Silicon Valley. Joan shares her story:
"Three of our five children are autistic, both of the boys and one of the three girls. Neither my husband or myself have any autism or developmental disabilities up our family trees, and my pregnancies were normal without any known risk factors. Why we would end up with three children with autism was a profound mystery to everyone.
"I was born in Los Angeles in August 1965 at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. Years ago, my mother told me that during her pregnancy with me her doctor had regularly injected her with drugs that he thought could help prevent miscarriage. My mother had a small frame and the pregnancy was considered 'at-risk' for that simple, if nutty, reason.
"Though we could not locate my mom's 1964-65 medical records, based on the common medical practice at the time, those drugs were almost certainly synthetic steroid hormones, such as fake progesterones and estrogens, which were used prolifically in obstetrics of that era.
"My friend Jill Escher, of the Escher Fund for Autism, and mom to two kids with equally mysterious autism, was born one month after me at the same Los Angeles hospital. Unlike me, though, she was successful in obtaining records of the multiple synthetic steroid drugs to which she was prenatally exposed. These drugs were very powerful, and operate by altering gene expression and function.
"People always tell me that my kids' autism must be 'genetic,' since I have three of them, but how could that be when we have no history of this or related disorders in our families? I find it much more plausible that my prenatal drug exposures damaged my eggs, inducing scattershot 'de novo' alterations.
"Given the enormous surge in autism cases, I don't understand why the germline disruption hypothesis is not the focal point for autism research today. We must stop analyzing so-called autism genes as if they have no exposure history."
[Joan Hutchens is a pseudonym, used to protect her children's privacy. For any inquiries, she can be contacted through the Escher Fund for Autism.]