Tag Archives: autism theories

An Autistic Child is Murdered

Another Autistic child has been murdered by one of his parents.  This time it is a six-year old, little boy named London McCabe.  London joins a growing list of Autistic children who have been murdered in recent years.

A psychology professor who runs an “education” group for mothers of autistic children in California said, “quite frankly, I am surprised this doesn’t happen more often.”

Wow.

“I am surprised this doesn’t happen more often.”

The casual nature of this comment stunned me.

She then went on to say, “These children are really unable to be in a reciprocal relationship and the moms don’t really experience the love that comes back from a child — the bonding is mitigated.”  This horrifying statement is untrue, but beyond that, the suggestion that if our feelings are not reciprocated, it makes sense that we become murderous, is to make us so narcissistic, so incredibly monstrous as to be unbelievable.   This is Bruno Bettelheim’s famous “refrigerator mother” theory reapplied to Autistic children and it is just as awful in this new version as it was in the original.

Most Autistic children feel love for their parents, just as most non-autistic children do.  Even when their parents behave horribly toward them, even when they’ve been treated with contempt, ignored, bullied, ridiculed and publicly shamed by those who say they love them, even then, most children still love their parents.  As they grow older many may have more complicated feelings of despair, abandonment, become distrustful, anxious and terrified.  The idea that Autistic children do not feel intensely is an outrageously, misinformed idea.  Just because someone does not reciprocate in a way non-autistics understand, recognize or expect does not mean the feelings do not exist. 

It is extremely disturbing to read such a statement coming from someone who is treated with deference and as though she is an authoritative voice on the topic of autism and Autistic people.  This professor is one of a number of people who has a degree in psychology and has made inaccurate, misinformed and mistaken statements about autism and Autistic people, yet none stop to ask what the psychological damage is to the Autistic children and adults they demonize with their incorrect statements, not to mention the impact such statements have on a misinformed public.  Unfortunately, few seem to be asking any questions about any of this or even bothering to find out if such statements are true, including the newspaper that published her comments.

There is an increasing number of Autistic men, women, teens and even younger people who are writing about their experience of life, their relationships and the world.  I am surprised when I meet someone in the field of autism who does not follow at least some of the blogs so many Autistic people are writing.  The Resources page of Emma’s Hope Book has dozens of links to Autistic people’s writing.  The first 28 blogs listed are written by non-speaking Autistics.  One of those people is my daughter, Emma.  After a presentation Emma gave in New York City a few months ago, she and I had the following conversation:

Emma:  I hope people will question what they have been told.
Ariane:  I do too.
Emma:  Horrible ideas about people, cause many to do terrible things…
A little later in that same conversation, Emma typed, “Worry and fear are fueled by furious words spoken harshly.  Humor soothes, shining sunny rays spreading hope.”

As the mother of an Autistic daughter who cannot communicate fluently with spoken language, but communicates beautifully by typing, I am continuously shocked by the inaccurate information that is rampant on the topic of autism and Autistic people.  Yesterday Emma typed, “Understanding that all human beings want connection is natural and fundamentally human.”  And last week Emma wrote, “The people of this world need to be exposed to difference and then shown compassion for their ignorance and limited thinking.”

For people who do not have the ability to communicate with spoken language and/or have sensory issues that impact each individual differently, expecting them to respond the way people who do not have any problem speaking and have never been assaulted by their environment, is relying on a false idea.  It is this false idea that continues to misrepresent so many.  It is this false idea that serves to hurt Autistic people.

The psychology professor told NBC News that mothers do not have the experience of their love returned by their child.   “That is one of the most difficult things for mothers” she told the reporter.

If this were true, it would be hard.  Years ago, when I once believed a great many things about my daughter, that I now know are not true, it was an awful feeling.  But it is far worse to be that child who loves, but is believed incapable of love.  It is far worse to be so thoroughly misunderstood, to be constantly misrepresented in public, to be thought so problematic that people sympathize with the mother who murders you… that is far more horrific than anything I will ever experience in this world.

London McCabe

London McCabe

Theories or What Does the Least Damage?

“Of all the therapies and various interventions we tried before you were able to write to us, did any help you?” I asked Emma the other day.

“No,” she wrote and then looked me in the eye and said out loud, as if I might not have understood her, “No.”

I have written about what we would have done differently had we known all that we now know ‘here‘ but still, I have to admit, I was surprised.

“But what about OT?” I asked.

“It is helpful to move,” Emma wrote.

“But did it help?” I asked.

“It’s helpful to move,” she wrote again.

And then I realized.  I was doing that thing that people so often do.  I was asking her a question, she was answering and then, because I couldn’t fully take in her answer or because I was hoping for a different answer, I was asking again.  If this were an interrogation it would be called, “leading the witness.”  Asking questions to elicit a particular response.

“Really?” I said, without thinking.  This time, Emma didn’t even bother to answer, she just looked at the timer and observed out loud, “Six more minutes and study room is allll   doooooone!”

I know for parents new to autism, these words may strike terror.  I remember early on being told about a parent who chose not to do any of the recommended therapies and being horrified.  Wasn’t doing something, even if it wasn’t helpful, better than nothing?  And then I met Henry and Kamila Markram.  They are the two neuroscientists who came up with the Intense World Theory of Autism.  It was Henry who suggested that if you could create a stress free environment for your young child, if you could shield them from surprise, create a calm, safe environment, you would do more for them than any therapy currently available.

Now for those reading this who are thinking I am saying this amounts to doing nothing, I’m not.  But there are those, like Uta Firth and Anna Remington, who insist the Markram’s recommendation, to lessen or adjust the stimuli in autistic children’s environment, is comparable to Romanian orphanages’ and go on to say, “insufficient stimulation and impoverished neuronal input in early development are damaging to children’s social, cognitive and emotional functioning3.” Except this shows a serious  misunderstanding of what the Markram’s are suggesting.  Neglect, mistreatment and being chained to a bed are not what I would call providing a safe, loving, environment free of surprises and lessening of outside stimuli.  

All children crave stimulus, but with the hyper/hypo-sensory issues that confront most if not all autistic children, Dr. Henry Markram suggests sheltering children in a comforting environment that minimizes surprises, sudden unexpected changes of plans, entering new, unfamiliar environments without any preparation, sensory assaults from loud sounds, bright lights, etc. He especially suggests avoiding confrontational behavioral therapies that demand eye contact, verbal responses, compliance and restricting movement.  What makes sense to me?  Following the child’s lead in seeking out craved stimuli. This is an aspect of Floortime that I think is a good approach.

As for other suggestions on “the right way to do it” I’d love to hear more ideas from our autistic readers. What do you think would be truly helpful?

Ideally we would have more scientific studies that show which of these various ideas are correct and that parents should do x, y and z while knowing that they were doing the right thing, the best thing, for their child, but we aren’t there yet.  So until we do know, without a doubt, one way or the other I am going to continue to look to Autistic people and my daughter to guide me.

Riding on the carousel - 2010

Riding on the carousel – 2010