My British Parents Smoked Nonstop Whilst I (and My Germ Cells) Were Developing in the Womb—Could this Be What Caused My Son's Autism?
by Jeremy Andrews
My name is Jeremy, and I have a beautiful nine-year old son, Scotty, who is autistic. This autism seemed to come from nowhere, as I have no autism or similar condition in my family history and neither does my wife, who is from China. Scotty has no identifiable genetic syndrome causing his abnormal neurodevelopment.
I come from the UK, and both of my parents were heavy smokers. My father probably came under the definition of a chain-smoker, it was rare to see him without a cigarette in his mouth. My mother smoked 20 cigarettes a day, my father probably 40.
My mother didn't give up smoking whilst pregnant with me (although she did for my older brother, I guess it was harder to give up cigarettes by the time I came along). My brother has no biological children.
My brother and I never smoked. I always hated the smell of smoke and never tried it even once. I used to use a portable fan to try and blow the second-hand smoke back over the table when playing cards with the family, but it never did much good. One of my strongest memories was going to see "The Towering Inferno" in the cinema and looking around to realize there was more smoke in the auditorium than there was on screen.
I don't know with any certainty if my mother's, and my father's, smoking affected my germ cells while I was in gestation. But if the molecular program of my germ cells were damaged by that constant, heavy exposure to tobacco smoke, which contains hundreds of toxic chemicals, perhaps that had a mutagenic or epimutagenic germline effect causing my son's autism. I'd be really interested in finding out, as it seems a very fruitful avenue of research.
Jeremy Andrews is a pseudonym for an autism dad who grew up in the UK but now lives in California with his wife and his son, Scotty.
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Jill Escher, Escher Fund for Autism, is a California-based science philanthropist and mother of two children with severe autism, focused on the question of how environmentally induced germline disruptions may be contributing to today's epidemics of neurodevelopmental impairment. You can read about her discovery of her intensive prenatal exposure to synthetic hormone drugs here. Jill is also president of Autism Society San Francisco Bay Area.