Blame the Parent v2.0

For decades, thanks to experts like Bruno Bettelheim and various Freudian psychologists, mothers were blamed for autism. The mothers were too cold ("refrigerator mothers") or too affectionate ("smothering mums"). The child with autism was considered narcissistic, neurotic, or even sociopathic, all because of bad parenting. I've been reading about the history of psychology and it can be depressing. Even 50 years ago seems like the Dark Ages.

Now, we have moved on to Blame the Parent, version 2.0.

How do we blame the parent in 2011? By claiming the parent made bad choices that led to, exacerbated, or in some other way contributed to the situation of his or her child.

A partial list of the blame game.

You shouldn't have…
  • vaccinated your child.
  • received any shots or vaccines. 
  • eaten any fish (or X, Y, and Z) while pregnant. 
  • exercised so much while pregnant.
  • exercised so little. 
  • fed your child X, Y, or Z. 
  • used household cleanser X. 
  • lived so close to a freeway.
  • lived near farmland.
  • taken your child to Dr. X. 
  • tried therapy X, Y, or Z when A really works.

It is actually an endless list. The mother or father is no longer too distant or too affectionate, instead the parent simply made bad, ill-informed, careless decisions.

Exactly how is this a better way to talk to parents about autism? And sadly, the greatest perpetrators of this Blame 2.0 are other parents, including parents of children with special needs.

Sometimes, I get frustrated. How can people be so insensitive? You don't need to tell another parent what he or she did wrong in your mind. Most parents just want a bit of support while trying to do the best they can. In fact, we'd all be better off if some "helpful" people didn't offer any blame disguised as advice.

No parent wants a child who will live a life filled with challenges. Most parents want the best for their children.


  1. Precisely! Yes! I almost yelled at my computer screen and woke my husband.

    You know what kills me? "She's a warrior mom."

    Guess what? EVERY MOTHER is a warrior mom.

  2. I have met a few truly bad parents (that's part of teaching and speaking), but most parents try everything to be good, nurturing, responsible parents. The Web has made this a lot harder to do without feeling guilty for something.

    My mother and father did a good job (I believe, obviously) and any mistakes I've made as an adult are my responsibility alone.

    They did not cause my birth trauma, did not cause my palsy, did not cause anything else that's "wrong" with me. What they did was prepare me as best they could to be a hard worker and decent human.

  3. Yeah, the only supposed autism link I know of that has any solid scientific backing is television viewing, which actually isn't recommended for children under two because it has been shown to damage/overstimulate an infant's brain. And that one is linked to ADHD, etc. too. These lists develop about any condition that is little understood and represents an attempt to seize control. Blaming ourselves for anything out of our control gives us the hope of being able to do something about it, though of course it doesn't actually work.

  4. It's interesting how quick people are to place blame for perceived "faults". I have mental illness, and I've had every explanation thrown at me from "abused as a kid" through to "attention seeking". How about, uh, it's just one of those things?

    Unless a parent is outright abusing their kid, or taking unnecessary risks while pregnant (like drinking copious amounts of alcohol, for example), they cannot be held accountable. Sometimes things just don't go to plan. And that, in itself, isn't necessarily a tragedy anyway!

    Parents have enough to deal with in today's society (such as being labelled an abuser for smacking a child's hand, for example), without adding yet another burden.

  5. I have a new book out that empowers parents to read the story to an inclusive classroom and then answer the children's questions about autism.
    I feel it's very important for typical children to understand the behavior of kids with autism. I'm hoping that this understanding will allow friendships to form.
    For more information about the book you can check Amazon for ANTHONY BEST or go to my website at
    If you do buy the book, I'd love to have some feedback.

  6. We didn't have a "real" television until I was in elementary school. We had a little black and white box, I remember. I also recall the giant console my grandparents had. It was a monster with a little tiny oval screen in the middle.

    The television research was: "Waldman and colleagues found that reported autism cases within certain counties in California and Pennsylvania rose at rates that closely tracked cable subscriptions, rising fastest in counties with fastest-growing cable. (2006)"

    Not exactly definitive. That's like saying we have more high-speed Internet connections in the neighborhoods with higher autism diagnostic rates, which is true because the highest rates are in up-scale urban neighborhoods of California and New Jersey.

    However, we have found significant connections between television, video games, and other visual displays of violence and aggressive behavior among school students. I suppose it is logical to wonder if such things also increase acting out with students diagnosed with ADHD, autism, and other executive function challenges.

    Cause and effect are always elusive with autism. I never thought of television as a positive habit, anyway, though I am addicted to animated features on weekends.


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