Autism and Mother-Blame

There was a time when mom was to blame if a child was autistic because she didn't love that child enough. These days that attitude seems to have evolved into mom is to blame for either allowing a child to become autistic or not doing enough to make autism go away. As the author of this piece says, there are plenty of things for mothers (and fathers) to blame themselves for. Autism shouldn't be one of them.
Autism and Mother-Blame
The idea that mother's are responsible for causing autism and curing it share important themes. First, it rests on the notion that the cause of autism is environmental and therefore easily modified. The role of genetics, which is almost certainly the primary cause of autism, is ignored:

Then it was toxic parents; today it is alleged environmental toxins (such as vaccines containing traces of mercury or MMR) to which parents have exposed their children. These theories also have the common features that they are entirely speculative and lacking in scientific support.

The concept that autism is an intrinsic feature of the child is rejected for the more acceptable fantasy that autism is something that happened to the "real" child, and can therefore be prevented or reversed by simple modifications of the environment.

This fantasy dovetails nicely with the dominant contemporary mothering ideology that positions mothers as risk managers who "educate" themselves (about pregnancy, birth, vaccination, food, etc.) for the project of creating the perfect child. The child thus produced simultaneously reflects the mother's competence, and advertises the mother's superiority among her peers.

The autistic child, in many ways viewed by our society as the ultimate imperfect child, is a visible sign of parental failure. The desperation to avoid the stigma of this failure leaves mothers of autistic children particularly vulnerable to quacks and charlatans (like Jenny McCarthy) peddling pseudo-scientific theories of autism's cause, its prevention and its treatment.

Autism almost certainly has a genetic basis and discovery of that basis should prove liberating for both autistic children and their mothers. Purveyors of the faulty idea of the "refrigerator mother" taught women to blame themselves for their children's autism. Charlatans like Jenny McCarthy continue to encourage mothers of autistic children to blame themselves, not for their purported emotional frigidity, but for their purported negligence in failing to "educate" themselves about vaccination and failing to "protect" their children from vaccinations.

This mother-blame has got to stop. There are more than enough things for mothers to feel guilty about. Autism should not be one of them.


  1. I was surprised to read this and agree with it seeing as how I have never agreed with one iota of anything else Dr. Amy T has to say, but on this subject I think she's spot on. (Obstetrics, not so much) :) Thanks for sharing!

  2. I don't know what she has to say about obstetrics but her post resonated with me because I've seen people behaving in the ways she describes. I'm hoping some mom will see this and take the opportunity to put down some of the unnecessary baggage she's been hauling around.


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