Having a child is a life-changing event for anyone, and many couples discuss if they want children and when they want to have them. Many couples choose to wait until much later in their lives to have any children, and this can potentially effect certain aspects of their child's life. Today we will answer the question about one of those aspects, namely whether or not older dads have "geekier" sons and how this relates to the autism spectrum.
What Is a "Geek"?
When someone says the word “geek”, a number of different things may come to your mind. Instead of running through the thousands of possible interpretations this word provokes, we will refer to the characteristics of "geeks" that are described by the researchers at King's College of London.
Researchers at the King's College of London developed a "geek index score" that looked at a number of different factors. They measured nonverbal IQ, level of focus on subjects of interest, and amount of social aloofness. Researchers also asked parents if their children cared about how they were perceived by their peers and if the majority of their child's time was taken up by a specific interest.
Researchers used the mentioned "geek index" to look at 15,000 United Kingdom twin pairs in a Twin Early Development Study. Researchers waited until the twins were 12 years old and then had them take online tests used to measure the geek index.
In an attempt to eliminate extraneous factors in the data, researchers controlled for the parent's social/economic status and employment.
The study showed that sons of older fathers (older than age 35) tended to have higher scores on the geek index. Sons of older fathers tended to be highly intelligent and more concerned about their interests than assimilating to social norms. The researchers also found that sons of older fathers tended to do better on school exams, particularly those relating to the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.
While the negative effects of having older fathers has been thoroughly researched, this is one of the first studies that looks at the positive effect an older father can potentially have on their child. Overall, the study provides some evidence that sons of older fathers will be successful in school, and possibly even successful in their careers and future endeavors as well.
Researchers did note that older fathers tended to have more established careers, which in turn often led to more stable and available finances. Sons of older fathers therefore tend to get better schooling and tutoring, which could contribute to their academic and employment successes.
Geek Index and the Autism Spectrum
Some research has shown that older men having children have a slightly increased chance of their children being on the autism spectrum. Researchers also have pointed out that certain characteristics of geeks overlap with certain characteristics of those on the autism spectrum (specifically those affected by Asperger's Syndrome).
Studies in the past have characterized having children on the autism spectrum as a negative consequence of having children when you are older. However, this study and many others continue to prove that children who have autism can still be very successful in school and in life. This study dismantles the perception that having a child with autism automatically means that child will have an unsuccessful life and career. That is not to say that geeks or those on the autism spectrum do not face challenges. They may struggle socially, which can lead to stress on themselves and their parents, and their sharp focus on interests may lead them to ignore other important aspects of life.
Is Your Child Geeky?
Every parent wants what is best for their children, and every parent will face the struggle of how to properly raise them. The truth is that each child is unique in their own way and requires different types of reinforcement. Geeky children have some major advantages when it comes to academia and other aspects of life, but may have to face certain challenges that other kids do not. Below are a few of these challenges and how you can help your child deal with these aspects of their life.
Social Isolation - Many geeky children will focus more on their interests than on fitting in at school. There is nothing wrong with this at its core, but it also can lead to them to feel like social outcasts. This can cause them to feel lonely and could lead to mental health problems as they grow older.
While you want to encourage your child to be more social, you don't want to try and change who they are. If they aren't good at sports, having them join a sports team might just make them feel even more like an outcast. The best thing to do is take note of what your child is interested in and find a way to turn that into social opportunities. For example, if your child is very focused on playing chess or other strategy-related activities, you could take your child to local chess classes or a chess club. This helps them develop their interests and also introduces them to other children who also share this interest. This helps them socialize more while still following their passion.
Confidence issues - In a child's mind, the more popular kids are often put on a pedestal and are looked up to. A geeky child may look at more popular children and think that their own lack of friends means they are lesser than the other children. This can lead to confidence issues which can create a whole litany of problems later in life. Make sure to take the time to remind your child of their worth. Never compare them to more popular siblings or kids. Tell them that popularity isn’t everything, and give them praise for their accomplishments in whatever they pursue.
Bleak Prospects - This is similar to number two, but geeky children may feel that they are destined to be a social outcast forever. Seeing all the other kids getting along and excluding them may make them feel that they have a bleak future. Take time to reassure them that middle and high school are a very short time in one's life, and that things will get better for them as they get older. Make sure to reinforce the importance on getting good grades and pursuing their interests, and explain to them that they eventually will find those who can appreciate them for who they are.
If you are an older man who is looking to have a son, studies show that you may find yourself having a geeky son. While some may see this as a bad thing, geeky children often find great success later in life. Building your child's confidence and facilitating their interests is a great way to help them find a balance between interest and social opportunities. Be sure to research the risks of having children later in life when considering when to have them.