One of the things I realized early on in my search to help our daughter was, there are a number of people who believe they know what causes autism and many more who believe they can cure it. There is also a tremendous amount of money to be made from desperate parents, like myself. I cannot tell you how often I took Emma to an alternative “healer” who claimed, if I just kept going and paying them their enormous fee, Emma would be cured. I do not believe these people meant to deceive, I think they really have convinced themselves their method will cure a child and if it does not, it is because we didn’t give it enough time.
In many ways Bruno Bettelheim’s refrigerator mom is alive and well even if it has taken on a new twist in today’s world. While no one came right out and said – You are to blame for her autism (and to blame if whatever method they were pushing didn’t cure her) – it was inferred by the questions they asked. What follows is a sampling of a few of the questions I have been asked over the years.
Did you drink caffeine during your pregnancy?
Did you or do you drink alcohol?
Did you take any sort of medication during your pregnancy or labor?
What about aspirin?
Did you sun bathe?
Did you have an epidural during labor?
No. No drugs, natural childbirth.
How long did you breast feed?
Just nine months?
Yes. Emma didn’t want to breast feed, she weaned herself. I wasn’t going to force her to breast feed when it clearly distressed her.
Ahhh… Did you eat fish?
A couple of times.
Grilled swordfish. I didn’t know about the mercury levels in fish when I was pregnant with Emma. It was only a few times when we were in Cape Cod.
There it was, finally, the answer they were waiting for. Depending on the practitioner, the questions changed and as a result, my answers, but there always came a point when I gave the “wrong” answer. It always ended the same way with the same look – eyes downcast, a slight sad shake of the head. I came away from these ‘interviews’ feeling angry, but I also wondered if there was any truth to it. Maybe the two times I ate grilled swordfish while we were in Cape Cod, really was enough to cause her autism… I think as a mother, it is second nature to wonder if something one did during pregnancy horribly effected the baby. To this day I feel tremendous guilt for having unwittingly eaten swordfish during my pregnancy with Emma. I honestly did not know how toxic our oceans had become.
I have become particularly wary of those who are adamant autism is caused by any one thing. My guess is, it’s multi-causal, but who knows? I am also wary of those who speak with absolute assurance they know how to “cure” autism with diets, behavioral therapies and alternative remedies. Autism is a neurological disorder and while all of these things may play prominent roles in children getting better, I have yet to meet a child who has been cured, in fact, I have yet to meet anyone who has met a child who has been cured.