We see the bond that twins share on a pretty regular basis – twin sisters giving birth within just hours of each other, for example. But never before have we heard of something quite so touching as this set of twins, Xander, who has autism, and Avery, who believes her twin brother will grow up to be “Spider-Man.”
“She said it’s because he has super powers and is very good at helping people,” Jenn Medvin, Avery and Xander’s mother, told ABC News. Jenn is inclined to agree with her daughter, who gave a range of answers about what she wanted to be when she grew up (everything from doctor to princess). “When you think about it, autistic people have super powers. They see things we don’t, see and hear things we don’t. They are a lot more in tune with their senses.”
Avery’s view of her brother was what sparked Jenn’s desire to create a documentary about her twins. In part, she wanted to convey the strong bond they share, but she also wanted to give a new perspective to the world of autism.
“I saw the exceptional bond that they had,” Jenn said. “I noticed the majority of the films out there were from parental or adult perspectives. This was so innocent and sweet. This is her own words.”
But it wasn’t always such a touching thing for Jenn. In fact, the very beginning of the diagnosis period was extremely disheartening for the registered nurse from Los Angeles.
Up until 18 months, the twins seemed to be developing normally. Then Xander started showing some clear developmental challenges – Avery sped around the house, but Xander still couldn’t walk. And he was clearly falling behind when compared to his twin sister.
Jenn took both children to a regional center, where Xander received his autism diagnosis. Avery was diagnosed as well, but after a few months, it became clear that Avery was only imitating Xander in the beginning, because she continued to develop at a more normal pace, while Xander continued to lag behind.
“When he would flap his arms, she would flap back in response,” Jenn said. “As time went on, he seemed to stay in some senses around the same age. She was progressing…as a neurotypical child would. Now she doesn’t display any [autism] symptoms at all.”
Avery’s lack of symptoms isn’t a miracle, but it is still a bit of a mystery where science is concerned. In fact, twins have been studied for quite some time in the field of autism. In identical twins, researchers are able to look at how genes play a role in autism, and in fraternal twins, they are able to look at environmental factors. Both have shown us that no one single factor can be pinned as a “cause” of autism.
Joachim Hallmayer, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, says that various studies have found fraternal twins, like Avery and Xander, have odds of between 10 and 30 percent when it comes to both children being diagnosed with autism. This is “higher than what you would see by chance.”
In fact, a study that was led by Hallmayer back in 2011 looked at 54 pairs of identical twins, and 192 pairs of fraternal twins. In the end, genes only accounted for about 38 percent of the risk of autism, while environmental factors accounted for 62 percent.
But even with this information, autism is “such a complex disorder,” and no one factor can truly account for the massive number of new cases each and every day.
So, for now, Jenna is working on the documentary, titled “A Little Hero,” which may be helping her deal with her own feelings of self-blame. Because, at the end of the day, there is no one place to put the blame. We can only keep moving forward, keep researching, and do our best to see our little miracles for who they truly are.
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