Cause of Autism

One old theory on the cause of autism as a result of bad parenting was first publicized by Bruno Bettelheim. He was a self-proclaimed professor of child development. He was most prominent between the 1940's and the 1970's. He was also a great self-promoter, and often in the media.

The term "refrigerator mother" was coined to describe a parent whose cold, uncaring style so traumatized her child that he retreated into autism. He took hold of the idea of the refrigerator mother and likened these parents to guards in a Nazi concentration camp. This misinterpretation of the cause of autism created a generation of parents carrying the guilt for their child's disability.

Dr. Bernard Rimland, also the parent of an autistic child, is credited with derailing this myth. His research, along with his work in bringing parents together as self-advocates, changed thinking about the roots of autism. Given the recent research which suggests autism is related to genetics, what the early pioneers may have been seeing is signs of autism in the "cold" parents.

Though parents are no longer accused of causing their children’s autism, they are expected to treat or discover proper training for their children. As the therapist, advocate, and medical decision makers, parents are still in a position of overwhelming responsibility in helping their child achieve their highest possible level of development.

Parenting a child with autism is hard work. One of the hardest aspects is managing the feelings of guilt that come with the diagnosis. Did we cause the problem by allowing vaccinations? By exposing our child to a toxin? By passing along the wrong genes? Shouldn't we be doing more to help solve the problem?

Ten Tips for Handling Guilt addresses some of those feelings, and may help parents place their feelings in perspective. The most important tip is to stop spending time and energy researching the cause of the autism and get on with the treatments. Teaching your autistic child life skills is a parent’s most important job.

Go check out other, more reasonable theories for the cause of autism.

Autism Home Page