Am I to Blame?

Autism Parenting 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?

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16 thoughts on “Am I to Blame?

  • June 11, 2009 at 12:53 am
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    my little brother has autism, and i myself have a variety of health concerns. my poor mother was (and still is) blamed for all of our medical problems. as a child, i really couldnt understand why the doctors would talk so sternly to my mother. of course, being a stressed out parent with two medically demanding children, she took it out on us which just pissed us off.
    she still gets blamed. i dont approve, to say the least. but hey, in the long run, my brother and i have turned out just fine.

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  • June 10, 2009 at 11:53 am
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    I don’t think it is your fault for your child’s diagnosis. And oftentimes, those who accuse parents of being “bad” have no idea what it’s like to be a good parent. Keep doing what you are doing! 🙂

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  • June 10, 2009 at 6:43 am
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    Please don’t listen to what people say about you, they are just ignorant and all they can do is talk a lot of rubbish.

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  • June 9, 2009 at 11:01 pm
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    I am not a mother, but I grew up with a brother who had autism…among a number of other disorders and disabilities.

    My mother was often accused of bad parenting, as well as doing drugs while she was pregnant. It was a hard thing for her to cope with and it made me very protective of both her and my little brother.

    People always point fingers at what they do not understand. I learned eventually to have patience with them and to pray to God to forgive their ignorance and to show them the error in their ways. People can be narrow minded and intolerant. Its unfortunate but true.

    Do not let those people pull you down, though. Only God can truly judge you. You know that you love your son very much and you know that it is no fault of yours. God never gives us more than we can handle. He gave you a son with autism because He believed you could handle such a special, precious gift. Love your son and watch him grow, and let him help YOU grow, too.

    There is a bond between mother and child that can not be broken. I believe this bond is even stronger when you have a child with special needs. There is a codependency and unconditional love there that is rarely seen in this world.

    Though it may be hard to really see it this way, you have been blessed. Children with special needs are some of the sweetest and most compassionate children you will ever meet. I thank God everyday for the time I got to spend with my little brother and for the lessons he taught me. Without him I would not be half the person I am today.

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  • June 9, 2009 at 9:08 pm
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    Did a college report on genetics and weak chromosomes being blamed for some cases of Autism. If it can be genetic, why would people blame “bad parenting”?

    You sound like an awesome parent. I think most people are just angsty about their own childhoods.

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  • June 8, 2009 at 10:02 am
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    I will never forget the looks on the faces of the people in Walmart when my three year old son screamed at me, “You dense, irritating, miniature beast of burden!…” I happened to stop him before he finished the quote, “Ogres are like onions…” He was angry and when he was angry, he would quote Shrek yelling at Donkey. In exactly the same tone, with the same accent, everything… but he had a three year old’s voice. I knew he was quoting, so it didn’t bother me.

    That has had me accused of letting Josh get away with too much. Thing is, why should I have punished him for quoting someone else? At least he was expressing himself. As he’s gotten older, and learned how to put together his own sentences, I’ve stopped him and asked him, “Who are you quoting?” and “Why?” and “What are your own words?” I’ve realized that most of the time, it is something relatively benign and that the tone he’s using is part of the quote, not quite his own intention. I’ve been letting him know that I don’t appreciate some of his quotes and that he needs to tone it down… but he’s now ten and capable of doing so… a three year old is not. I’d rather have him quoting Shrek than throwing a tantrum though…LOL

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  • June 7, 2009 at 6:14 pm
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    My mom is a social worker, so she sees the worst of the worst at times.  It’s ok, but the downfall is that she’s always looking for it in others – as a preventative measure.

    accused?  not really…unless you see the bad looks from others while your autistic kid is having a tantrum in the middle of the store.

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  • June 7, 2009 at 12:59 pm
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    It’s ironic that some of the most engaged parents end up being blamed for being bad parents.

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  • June 7, 2009 at 12:29 pm
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    Well, I can tell you now, you are not to blame! Not only was mercury found in vaccines, but in high amounts of tuna consumed. My personal belief, that I had seen on here, that not only do some of the ones you listed apply, but can be genetic too. In a facility I had worked in that worked on behaviors, there were three families whom had more than one child with an ASD disorder. One of them, being my boss – who was doing everything possible for her son. I do believe the GF/CF diet helps some kids – but not all. Autism in children has one thing in common with the mindsets of every individual. If you have met one child with Autism, You have only met ONE child with Autism. Kids may share Symptoms, but respond to different therapies. In witnessing this, it makes me believe that there may be different causes to make children respond to such intensley different therapies.

    I do believe that some parents do not reinforce thier child though (not saying you dont), but I have seen a difference in behaviors between a parent and at the behavior school. I remember one parent, who pretty much used our facility as an WAY overly priced childcare/babysitter… she did not practice any of the child’s programs at home and then complained she wasnt seeing results. When he came to us, he showed no eye contact, had no communication skills other than pointing and crying, and was self injurious and injurious to his peers as well when threatened over trivial issues. After about 6 months, we saw a huge difference at the school. He maintained eye contact on his own, responded to his name, now knew one word mands for “potty”, “drink” ,”eat” or most importantly for him “help”. We taught him how to button his own clothes and identify them, his body parts. He was extremley smart, but his mother did not practice any of the programs at home, and because she was not learning them herself – he became frustrated at acted out MORE at home. Why? because he couldnt communicate with her, he would mand “potty” and become frustrated bc mom would be on the phone, or not acknowledge him and all heck would break loose. Her not listening was one thing, but she also enabled him to some behaviors. She wondered why she couldnt get him to eat different foods, but never gave him anything but macdonalds, of course he isnt going to want brussel spouts or green beans… Oh well, what I was trying to get at is, i dont believe Autism is Caused by poor parenting, but sometimes, it makes the behaviors worse.

    I hope I didnt offend or anything, but that was my 2 cents haha

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  • June 6, 2009 at 9:45 pm
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    Bad parenting causes autism?  THAT’S news to me..(snicker!!)  Gads,..when will some shrinks get their heads out of their asses and keep up with the latest research and information?????  shrinks, who say that autism is caused by bad parenting,..are as bad as the shrinks,..who treat deaf clients without the shrink having ANY knowledge of American sign Language!!  A friend of mine and I took a Deaf friend of ours to see a shrink,..who had NO knowledge of how to communicate with her!!  He didn’t even attempt to talk to her by using my friend and myself as interpreters!!  The doc just took one look at her dark clothing and pronounced her”severely depressed..and retarded!!”  We had to tell the shrink that she was AMISH and was dressed in dark clothing beause of her religious beliefs!!  He tried to give us a “prescription” for mellerill for her and wanted to “observe” her some more after she was “properly medicated!!”  Good Lord!!  My friend and I got our Deaf lady friend OUT of that idiot’s reach as fast as we could and left him to take his own..”medication!!”

    …..Stanelle

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  • June 6, 2009 at 8:22 pm
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    As a professional in the field I always found the term “refrigerator moms” offensive, now as a mother it makes me downright angry.  However, this was over 50 years ago.  The people who would use that term are sorely uneducated.  Nothing parent does or does not do can cause autism…at least as far as we are aware since we do not know the exact cause. 

    What I learned through out my teaching career was this…

    the best parents were the ones who accepted the child autism included and treated this child as such.  They had the same expectations of the child with autism as they did of their other children.  This does not mean that they did not make adjustments but they did not let autism rule their lives.  Just remember that consistancy is the key.  And don’t be afraid to discipline just because they are different, they need rules and boundaries too.

    Now enjoy your child.  He is different yes but you can enjoy him for who he is.  Don’t beat yourself up.  It is difficult enough to raise children disabilities or not, without the added problem of guilt. 

    I hope I did not overstep by bounds nor did I offend you.  From what you have written you are doing a fine job.  Just love him.

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  • June 6, 2009 at 8:16 pm
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    The thought that parenting is to blame is prepsterous, and anyone who would agree with that view has never had an autistic kid in melt-down mode in their home…because if they had, they would realize that most parents would do ANYTHING to not have to deal with that on a day-to-day basis. Some parents do, in fact, resort to some pretty scary things to try to “cure” it. Most parents of autistic kids I know are the most attentive, stable, loving and dedicated parents I have ever known.

    We were so excited for our first baby that we had read every parenting philosophy out there and tried our hardest to do everything “right”. Despite those attempts, our little guy just didn’t seem comfortable in his own skin…now looking back on it (having had several pregnancies afterward)…he even reacted differently to outide noises IN THE WOMB. He reacted so violently to me putting a seatbelt on, wearing maternity pants in which the band went across the middle of my belly, loud sounds, me showering, etc. that I was often in pain from his reactions. He also went crazy kicking the doppler every time they listened to his heart  to the point that they commented on it each time because they had “never seen anything like it”. I know there are all kinds of ideas out there, but I am convinced that our son had sensory issues before he was born.

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  • June 6, 2009 at 7:18 pm
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    It really sounds like the title of the post is a bit different than the actual post.  You don’t really wonder whether or not you, as a parent, had anything to do with the diagnosis. But more specifically the topic here seems to be about the people who make such accusations, and how they can be that way. That question, I don’t know, people are fucked up.  Sometimes it’s just easier to place blame when they can’t think of anything else to do.

    I do think there is such a thing as ‘unfortunate parenting’ [I don’t like to use the word ‘bad’ although some might] even when there is no physical abuse/neglect, only in the sense that some people, because of their own nature, just can’t express the unconditional love that kids really need to thrive on. But I doesn’tsoud like you fall into that category.  At the most, parents and how they are (or are not) might be just one of many variables – have you read any of the claims about certain kinds of vaccines being linked to autism? I think some people make a pretty good case for that.

    autism is a fasinating subject, I am glad you are talking about it.  I am thinking of adopting a couple of older children from the US foster care system, and you wouldnot believe the high percentage of these kids who have some kind of autistic presentation amongst their various special needs.  So apparently there are a ton of parents who can’t even handle it at all, hence so many kids sitting in foster care for so long.  It must be challenging to work at parenting these kids and I hope we can hear more from you.  I have not totally ruled out adopting an older child with some autism type problem because, as an older parent and single parent, I am thinking that I could deal with that better than I could deal with severe ADD ADHD or just outwardly trouble maker kid with a capital T. Especially since I am thinking of adopting 2 or 3.

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  • June 6, 2009 at 6:53 pm
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    Oh my god no you’re not to blame. Don’t say that. It’s not your fault. 

    Anyone who accuses you of bad parenting is just ignorant. Keep that in mind. You’re not a bad parent and don’t ever say that about yourself. 

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