When my son was in the early stages of being diagnosed with Autism, I read almost everything I could find on the subject. I even made a scary trip downtown so I could visit the main branch of the library. One of the first books I came across was by Bruno Bettelheim. Bumble… I mean Bruno… was convinced that “refrigerator mothering” was the cause of Autism in children — the idea was that mothers who didn’t love their children enough caused their children’s Autism. Mind you, I had never been a fan of book burning or anything of the sort but in that moment, no other solution seemed available. The book was written decades before my son came along, and in the time between the two, much research had already been done, and the idea that poor parenting caused children to have autism had been dismissed completely… or so I thought.
Throughout the years since my son was diagnosed, I have heard whispers (and out right confrontation) that my son would be just fine if only I learned how to discipline him. I, along with countless other parents, have been accused of all sorts of rotten parenthood as the root of all things Autism. Yes, it offends me. I would imagine that most parents being told they suck at parenthood and their child is ruined because of it would get at least a little defensive. After all, it is an offensive claim. And to those who wouldn’t, more power to you, but I don’t need any more lectures or discussions on my shortcomings. While it does offend me, I wonder why people would believe such a falsehood.
Fortunately, thanks to the Autism Society of America and Autism Speaks, those accusations have fallen to the wayside for the most part, and many people are more knowledgeable than in the past. Most people I come across can even properly pronounce Autism instead of referring to it as “Artism”. And while a definite cause still eludes the experts, at least the majority of people have stopped blaming dear old mom and dad… except for Michael Savage, former hippie, now neo-con bent on spreading misinformation and hatred.
Of course, there have been plenty of other culprits of Autism. The most popular things blamed for Autism are mercury (it isn’t actually the vaccines blamed, by the way, but the mercury in them. Also, when companies decided to stop putting mercury in the vaccines, they didn’t pull the ones containing mercury so they are still being used until the medical community runs out), gluten and casein allergies, candida (yeast infection) of the intestinal tract, the father’s age at conception, mitochondrial defects or viruses, the high EMFs from cell phones, and too much television (a study largely discredited by the scientific community, btw. Casual statistics don’t equate to proof. I am sure the sale of birthday cake has gone up. Could birthday cake cause Autism?) Last but not least, the idea that children are autistic due to poor parenting is back in style!
Now we get down the real point of my post. Why on earth would supposedly educated and evolved people want to lay the blame of Autism on poor parenting? If bad parenting caused Autism, I am sure the numbers would actually be MUCH higher than they are right now. And short of physical endangerment and abuse, how subjective is the claim of “bad parenting” anyway? Is it bad parenting to encourage bullying or snobbery? Is it bad parenting to allow your children to gossip about other kids? And no proof has ever come out of the stay-at-home mom versus the working mom debate. Just how many children watch hours of television and don’t develop Autism? I bet it is a pretty high number. Come on! It shouldn’t take a slew of autism “experts” to shout out that poor parenting isn’t the cause of Autism any more than it is the cause of Down Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy. In fact, researchers have found several genes associated with Autism and it is been all over the news, newspapers, magazines, doctor’s offices, and the Internet in recent years. The parents I have met and known tend to be highly involved in their children’s education, medical treatment, and therapies. They/We try to stay on top of recent studies and awareness movements. They/we are hell bent on giving our children every opportunity to live as independently as possible and to be out in the community as much as possible. Most of us are not “parking our kids in front of a baby sitting television” simply because our children do require so much direct and hands on supervision. (I can’t even close the door to the bathroom if my husband isn’t home because I need to keep an ear or eye out for Alex.) In the past, many parents of children on the spectrum would keep their kids at home, out of concern for their treatment, but that has changed so much over the past decade. While there is no doubt in my mind that not all parents of autistic children are this involved, I am certain that the majority are not frigid mothers fond of lazy parenting. So why would anyone want to blame bad parenting?
It hit me tonight why someone would want to make such an obviously false accusation. Let’s face it… the numbers are frightening. 1 in 150 people fall into the spectrum of Autism in this country. That is actually quite a lot. What if we had those same odds of buying a winning Mega Millions or Powerball lottery ticket? What if that was the odds of a plane crashing? It is a terrifying number! Granted, not all of the 1 in 150 have Classic Autism, but who wants their children to have any kind of ASD? The idea that it is caused by poor parenting, rather than genetics and/or pollution, additives and preservatives, or some other factor we can’t actively control, might allow frightened and insecure parents to sleep well at night while they convince themselves it couldn’t happen to their child because they are good parents. It allows others to feel in control.
Since I really do want to give people the benefit of the doubt, even when they spread false accusations or other negative sentiments towards my son and my family, I am going to assume that most people who accuse parents for their child’s Autism are not as mean-spirited and maniacal as Savage. I am going to remind myself that Autism is scary to the outsider and that when they hear the numbers, they may need to lay the blame on something they can control so they don’t have to fear the big bad ASD diagnosis for their own young loved ones. For some, that means blaming the medical and drug companies for “over diagnosis,” and for others, it might mean blaming parents themselves. So, if that is the case and it makes an insecure and ignorant person feel better to say there is no problem or to blame me for my child’s autism and call me a bad or frigid mom, then I will tell myself to take the “whatever” approach, even if I am offended. My son knows how much I love him and that is the only opinion that I am going to care about. However, anyone making such an accusation to most parents of children with Autism better be prepared to be educated.
Have you ever been accused of bad parenting? How did you deal with it?