There is near universal agreement among autism academics that inadequate parenting does not cause autism, yet the legacy of psychoanalytic, parent-blaming theories of autism remains. The enormous popularity of theories like Kanner’s ‘refrigerator mothers’ and Bettelheim’s frankly bizarre Freudian analyses of motherhood, contributed to this longevity. Even now, with all we know, so often when faced with autistic behaviours, GPs, clinicians, teachers, friends and family seem to find reasons for visible behaviours that place the blame firmly on the parents.
The irony of all this parent-blaming is that there’s no consistency. From my own experience and having spent years interacting with 100s of parents online and in ‘real-life’, it’s clear that, for some people, all that matters is finding the ‘thing’ that the parents are doing ‘wrong’, even when the child is already diagnosed autistic.
My son is an only child so that has been suggested as a reason; but interestingly, my friend whose autistic son is one of 5 has been told it’s because he’s one of many.
I have heard mums told it is because they work, implying the child’s needs are neglected; and also because they don’t work and spend too much time with their child, implying indulgence.
Some are told they are too strict; and others too lax.
Perhaps it’s because both parents work; or perhaps it’s because neither parent works.
It could be that the parents expectations are too high; or too low, who knows?
Maybe it’s because the child doesn’t attend any extra-curricular activities; or maybe they spend too much time doing an activity they love.
It might even be because they never went to nursery; or was it because they were in childcare from an early age?
It’s probably because they’re the youngest, or the oldest, or in the middle.
For every single reason for blame given to a parent, I can bet that another parent has been given the opposite reason for blame.
None of these things cause autism.
But these messages do affect how people view autistic people, both children and adults. These messages suggest that the autism isn’t inherent, that it’s not an integral part of our being, instead suggesting that it’s damage inflicted upon us.
And that’s just nonsense.