Autism theories from the Dark Ages in 2012

Warning: Long post ahead. Settle down with a cuppa if interested in autism and/or special needs.

Hark, I hear the Medieval Ages calling…okay, just the 1950s, and Dr Tony Humphreys is ushering it in.

First, read the following article which was printed in the Irish Examiner, which I stumbled across only yesterday:

 

by Tony Humphreys

Do not read this if you have had a difficult day/week!

Monday 6th Feb, 11.30 am. This article has still not appeared on the online version of the paper.

A team of researchers at Cambridge University is currently exploring the connection between high-achieving parents, such as engineers, scientists and computer programmers and the development of their children. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, who is the director of the Autism Research Centre at the university, says there are indications that adults who have careers in areas of science and math are more likely to have autistic children.

In studies in 1997 and 2001 it was found that the children and grandchildren of engineers were more likely to be autistic and that mathematicians had higher rates of autism than other professions. What is shocking is that Dr Baron-Cohen and the team of researchers are one: assuming that autism is a scientific fact and, two: missing the glaringly obvious fact that if the adults they researched live predominanently in their heads and possess few or no heart qualities, their children will need to find some way of defending themselves against the absence of expressed love and affection and emotional receptivity.

After all, the deepest need of every child is to be unconditionally loved and the absence of it results in children shutting down emotionally themselves because to continue to spontaneously reach out for love would be far too painful. 

Children’s wellbeing mostly depends on emotional security – a daily diet of nurture, love, affection, patience, warmth, tenderness, kindness and calm responses to their expressed welfare and emergency feelings. To say that these children have a genetic and/or neurobiological disorder called autism or ASD (autistic spectrum disorder) only adds further to their misery and condemns them to a relationship history where their every thought and action is interpreted as arising from their autism.

It is frequently the case that it is when these children go to school that their emotional and social withdrawal of eccentricities are noticed, mainly by teachers, who themselves can struggle with how best to respond to these children. An unconscious collusion can emerge between parents and teachers to have these children psychiatrically assessed so that the spotlight is put on the children and not their adult carers’ own emotional and social struggles. Regretfully, the relationship contexts of the childrens’ lives are not examined and their mature development is often sacrificed on the fires of the unresolved emotiuonal defences of those adults who are responsible for their care.

It is important to hold to the fact that these carers do not consciously block their children’s wellbeing, but the unconscious hope of children is that other adults (teachers, relatives, educational psychologists, care workers) that when they are emotionally and socially troubled, it is their adult carers who often need more help than they do. 

Indeed, my experience in my own psychological practice is that when parents and teachers resolve their own fears and insecurities, children begin to express what they dare not express before their guardians resolved their own emotional turmoil.

A clear distinction needs to be made between the autism described by psychiatrist Leo Kanner in 1943 and the much more recently described ASD (autistic spectrum disorder, often referred to as Asperger’s syndrome). The former ‘condition’ was an attempt to understand severely emotionally withdrawn children, the latter concept, which is being used in an alarmingly and rapidly increasing way, is an attempt to explain children’s more moderate emotional and social difficulties. Curiously – and not at all explained by those health and educational professionals who believe that autism and ASD are genetic and/or neurobiological disorders – is the gender bias of being more diagnosed in boys (a ratio of four to one). This bias is also found with ADHD. Surely that gender phenomenon indicates the probability that boys are reared differently to girls and that due to social and cultural factors boys respond to the troubling behaviours of their adult carers in ways that are radically different to girls. 

What is equally distressing is that, as for ADHD, a whole industry involving research, assessment, screening, education and treatment has been developed, despite the absence of any scientific basis or test for either the originally ‘detected’ autism or for the broader construct of ASD.

Sami Timimi, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist and two colleagues rigorously examined over 5000 research articles on autism and ASD and found no scientific basis for what they now refer to as mythical disorders. They outline their findings in their book ‘The Myth of Autism’ (2011). The conclusion of their indepty studies is that “there is no such thing as autism and the label should be abolished”.

The authors are not saying that the children are not emotionally and socially troubled. What they are saying is – and I concur with them – that focus needs to be on the relationship contexts of these children’s livews, and to take each child for the individual he or she is and to examine closely the family and community narratives and discover creative possibilities for change and for more dynamic and hopeful stories to emerge for both the children and their carers.

Dr Tony Humphreys is a consultant clinical psychologist, author and national and international speaker. His book ‘All About Children” is relevant to todays article. 

I quite honestly, wanted to curse out loud when I read this. You know what this guy is talking about??? He’s essentially trying to eradicate all the progress the community has made towards understanding autism, it’s going back to the dark ages, when doctors didn’t know what autism was and decided, HEY LET’S BLAME THE WOMAN OF THE FAMILY!

Ever heard of Refrigerator Mom Theory? This was the theory floated around in the 1950s and 1960s that said autism was caused by detached mothers, those who could not emotionally bond with their kids. Often, when reading accounts from the past, you will find parents who say the wife was often blamed for the autism, saying it her coldness that caused the child to retreat within a shell.

This is one of the letters that appeared in the newspaper yesterday as part of the outrage sent in by readers:

‘Psychobabble’ has been discredited for decades

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The article by Tony Humphreys claiming that autism is caused by “cold” or emotionally distant parents, displays such willful ignorance, lack of understanding and density of inaccurate and offensive statements that it is shocking that the Irish Examiner would publish it.

This kind of psycho-babble has been discredited for decades.

Autism is a biological, brain-based disorder. It is also a genetic disorder. The scientific evidence for these statements is overwhelming. We now know of more than 100 distinct genetic conditions that can result in autistic symptoms.

These conditions affect early development of the brain and researchers are making progress in understanding how that results in the specific symptoms seen in autism, which may range widely in severity.

In contrast, the claims by Mr Humphreys are a throwback to psycho-analytic theories that are completely unsupported by any evidence, as well as being actively damaging and hurtful.

In publishing this waffle, your paper does a disservice to responsible journalism and to all the patients, parents and teachers struggling to cope with the real disabilities caused by this condition.

Kevin Mitchell PhD
Associate professor of genetics and neuroscience,
Trinity College Dublin

 

This appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Some other letters linked here: a letter from Kevin Whelan, chief executive at Irish Autism, who said: “What people with autism and their parents need is more research that specifically addresses how the condition occurs — not the defrosting of an assumption over half a century old“; then quite appallingly, a letter of support, from a music therapist no less! I can only imagine parents of children with autism who may be sending their kids to him, won’t anymore. 

And then…a response from the newspaper: “Autism controversy – The right to an opinion“.

I want to tear this apart, but it has already been done exceedingly well at The Voyage, I suggest you read it there.

I got in touch with Grace app creator, Lisa Maree Domican, who said one thing we can do is this:

If you want to write to the press council 

Press Council of Ireland
1,2 and 3 Westmoreland street, Dublin 2
Republic of Ireland.

info@presscouncil.ie

Also in her blog post, Lisa mentions a Twitter protest idea:

Join Twitter and use the hashtag #ilovemyautistic to refute the myths with examples from your own life
eg: “@lisamareedom: #ilovemyautistic son because he cracks me up! And laughing every day keeps me young”
you get the idea. Now go forth and counter!

I know this is a long post, and there’s a lot to get through, but people who are supposedly doctors, and say things like this which can impact the autism community and set us back to where we emerged from, need to know they cannot say whatever they like with impunity, and get away with it.

I shall reiterate for anyone who’s stuck reading this post so far: The refrigerator mom theory is bunkum. It’s bogus, it’s not real, it’s absolute SHIT.

As a personal example: my brother was showered with all the love he could get…he had started talking even. He had his grandparents to spoil him silly, an elder sister who was uber-excited about being with a little baby, a Mom who loved her new child. He was a child brought up in love. He still has autism. After the diagnosis, he was showered with even more love, even though it doesn’t seem possible we could’ve loved him any more. He still has autism.

So if anyone, anyone at all, whether he/she has a professional degree, tells you your child’s autism is your fault, is because you didn’t provide for him/her emotionally, I suggest you walk out of their office/clinic there and then, and name-and-shame them.

Don’t blame yourself; you need to be strong to take care of your child, not beat yourself up over a baseless opinion.

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7 thoughts on “Autism theories from the Dark Ages in 2012

  1. I really admire the amount of dedication you put in towards your research and helping ignorant souls like us become aware. There are people like you and there are others who need the police to force them to accept their own child!

  2. Thanks Mehnaz. Autism is just something I’m very passionate about, so I read voraciously about it and follow news on these topics as much as I can.I did read that story about a family forced to accept their own child…am actually writing a post about it too!

  3. @lizditz Thanks! That’s a great resource to keep a track of. Will definitely visit the blog as well. Thanks again for doing this! Will be very interesting to see how this situation plays out.

  4. Thanks for the share Devina. Today is Friday in Ireland, when the “Feelgood” section of the The Irish Examiner newspaper is published, and I am wondering if the good “Dr” will have his regular column in it today.I for one am very proud of the reaction of the community this week – as Liz Ditz says> A lie goes around the world before the truth has got his boots on< but this time it seems that parents, carers, professional care workers and clinical specialists and real Doctors like Louise Gallagher have united to reject this article.Oh, and the Psychology Society of Ireland issued a press release yesterday saying they totally refute it,xx

  5. Yes, he is still in the Examiner Feelgood section and his topic this week is … love! (just like the last 400 weeks). He is still calling himself a dr and a clinical psychologist.On the other hand, the Psychological Society of Ireland has erased his biography and links to his lectures from their website at psihq.ie, although he was not a member and can’t therefore be reprimanded by them. The Examiner have removed the Feelgood issue with his offensive article.I hope that the Examiner put the article back on their website and head it prominently with the various complaints about inaccuracy, and a clarification of his real qualifications and titles.

  6. Lisa – So glad to know the PSI has refuted his ridiculous claims! The autism community can rally around a cause…something I’m so very proud of.I Read It – Still calling himself doctor?!!? Again, so glad the PSI has removed links to him.

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