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The Genetics and Biology of Behavior: Autism Spectrum and Beyond

Updated: Jun 7, 2020

Photo by Minnie Zhou on Unsplash

We've all heard parents exclaim that each of their children are so unique in personality. "Right from the womb, Joey's been loud and active and constantly on the go! But Baxter's always been extra sensitive to hurt and kind of anxious. He loves to read and always wants to snuggle."

People love a good debate about nature (genetics/biology) versus nurture (education, parenting, home environment, coping strategies). Which is it!

Well, it's pretty clear that both play a role. The brain is an organ of the body. Isn't that amazing! The brain is the seat of what we call our innate temperament.

Our genetics are the code by which our body and all its parts form -- like the blueprint of a building. Some parts of our code are inherited from our parents, while others might be spontaneous changes during development or across the lifespan.

Environment plays a role too. Scientists are understanding that certain genes can be turned on and off by things in the environment. But what things? In this case, the environment includes a multitude of biological and nonbiological factors (including viruses, nutrition, birth injury, education, etc).

It's good for us to keep this duality, in all its complexity, in mind when we consider behavior. There is a biological piece and a willful, motivational, learning piece. Both are true and are held in tension throughout the lifespan. While we cannot completely override our biology, we can have some form of influence.

For those of you who are clinicians or graduate students (or just love to keep learning), you may want to study more about the genetics of behavior. I personally took this online course from the University of Minnesota and would highly recommend it (you can take it for free or pay a small fee for a certificate of completion).

Both biology and our committment to grow/improve are important. Let's understand both so we can create reachable goals for the well-being of everyone!

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