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“Ask a Priest: Should an Asperger’s Sufferer Forgo Having Children?”
Q: I have a rather complex question. I have Asperger syndrome, a mild form of autism which manifests itself in social anxiety. Luckily, this is the only side effect of my condition as I have a job, drive a car and enjoy a relatively normal and balanced life. Recently I have met a girl and after much prayer I feel I am being called to the holy sacrament of marriage. However, I am fearful of bringing children into the world if the “law” and “society” see me as mentally unfit to raise a child. Perhaps I do suffer more from this condition than I realize. Should I give up on my calling to marriage, or would it be OK to practice contraception with my future wife so to not bring children into the world? This would, after all, be for the greater good, because I don’t want to perpetuate any damage to a child that might suffer from me being its father. -A.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It is laudable that you are concerned about the impact of Asperger’s may have on marriage and fatherhood. It shows that you are thinking deeply and seriously about the true meaning of that vocation.
Some research shows that Asperger syndrome can run in families, and some families have with a history of children with AS and classic autism. A relative who has had similar characteristics when younger might be in a unique position to help a child – because the relative knows what the youngster is going through.
There is no formal identification of the precise means of transmission if the cause is genetic. But there are suggestions as to which chromosomes might be involved. As our knowledge of genetics improves, we might soon be able to predict the recurrence rate for individual families (see here).
As to the question whether this is a good enough reason to abstain from having children, the answer is twofold.
On the one hand, a marriage with the intention of not ever having children would be invalid. The encyclical Humanae Vitae mentions that a couple may space their children if the couple have sufficient or weighty reasons. A marriage would probably be valid if the couple is not totally closed to the idea of accepting a child, should one be conceived despite the use of natural family planning. Under no circumstances, however, is contraception permitted. It is an intrinsically evil act that deliberately thwarts the meaning of the marital act. The end would not justify the means in this case.
Second, your question touches on the notion of human perfectionism and defects. This is not really a Christian concept of the human person; rather, it is a utilitarian notion. We are all imperfect in one way or another. Our humanity matures amid our struggles, our aspirations, our human spirit. To assume that conception should be avoided solely because a future child might have an imperfection is not the healthiest principle to live by. What seems imperfect to the world is lovable in the eyes of God. What makes us valuable is not physical or mental perfection but rather our immortal soul and the image of God engraved in each one of us.
I pray that you consider deeply the options you are considering, and to be aware of the providence of God and his love.