Monday, April 30, 2007

A Very Thoughtful and Brave Posting from an Older Dad.

Was father's age a factor in Va. Tech shootings?
I've struggled this week about just how to write this. Several news outlets have reported that the father of Virginia Tech gunman Cho Seung-Hui is 61. The shooter was 23, which would mean the father was in his late 30s when his son was born. Not old by the standards around here, but it does bring home the seriousness of what the decision to delay childbearing can mean. It's unclear to me what exactly Cho was diagnosed with in the past, but two things I have seen have been schizophrenia and autism.

The link between advanced paternal age and schizophrenia has been recognized for a long time now. And just what is advanced paternal age in this case? Late last year, a French researcher concluded that while "no threshold can be precisely defined," there did seem to be a difference in risks for those younger than 35 and those older than 35. There also studies that show an association between both maternal and paternal age in autism. In fathers, there may be an increased risk with each advanced decade of the father's age. Without knowing anything more than the father's age and the son's reported behaviors and ultimate violent act, it's impossible to say here if the father's age had any effect whatsoever. But I think we can conclude it was one, and only ONE, of the potential risk factors involved in this tragic case.

That said, it's important to note that Cho's actions could not be explained away by either a diagnosis of schizophrenia or autism. Obviously, most people with those disorders never do anything like he did. I don't think we'll ever know what got in him to do what he did. To say "he did this because he was autistic" - or whatever - does more to stigmatize those with disorders than it does to satisfy the need to explain why it happened.

It also doesn't mean that older dads are destined to have violent, angry kids. As I've stated many times before, the vast majority of our kids will turn out to be just as quote-unquote normal as our younger-parenting counterparts, though there are some increased risks. Those risks are real and should be taken seriously when making family-planning decisions.

Thanks to concerned heart for posts about the research on advanced paternal age.

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