In 1949, Dr. Leo Kanner wrote a paper, in which he cited “refrigerator mothers” as the cause of the autism in children ~ attributing autism to “genuine lack of maternal warmth”. In an interview for Time magazine in 1960, Dr. Kanner described mothers of autistic children as “just happening to defrost enough to produce a child.”
Bruno Bettleheim wrote articles in the 1950s and 1960s that widely promoted this theory and, following Kanner’s lead, Bettleheim never took into account that fact that these same mothers also had unaffected children.
Dr. Kanner’s theory was disproved through Dr. Bernard Rimland’s tireless efforts beginning in the 1970s. The tragedy is, even today, more than 60 years after Dr. Kanner’s paper was published, there are still those that are quick to place blame on the parent (s). How many parents have been told that their child’s struggles stem from a lack of discipline, rather than autism or sensory issues? The only difference is, today we’re at the other extreme. Parents are being told they are TOO accommodating, and “spoiling” their child.
Genuine meltdowns are being dismissed as “temper tantrums”. Parents are being advised not to give in. For all the promotion for early intervention, it’s a bear to get doctors, therapists, and teachers to listen, truly listen, when a parent says there is something wrong. Sensory issues are being dismissed as stubbornness or lack of motivation on the part of the child. Children who are non-verbal and not hitting other milestones are not immediately referred to any sort of early intervention program. A child who is a non-seeker is clearly, in the minds some, not being played with enough. Not being challenged. May possibly be the child of a negligent parent.
If your child has eye contact, and does not object to being snuggled, there are those that will argue all day with you, and tell you that there is no way this child could be “on the spectrum”. But “this child” has parents that know him, and they know that there is something really not right. His parents will throw themselves into the whirlwind of begging, pleading, and threatening, until they can find a doctor or therapist that will honestly evaluate their child. They will suddenly find themselves online at all hours of the night and day, as well as at the library, checking out stacks of books on diet, therapy, and research on Autism Spectrum, SPD, GFCF, ABA, and a myriad of other related subjects.
The parents of “this child” will lose even more sleep than before, as they wrack their brains, trying to absorb all the new information, and make sense of it. They will have enormous phone bills, as a result of calling any and everyone they hear about, to get their child evaluated and set up with therapy. They will pay out of pocket for therapies and interventions not covered by their insurance. They will try restrictive diets. They will try… everything. They will go into extreme debt with their local hospital in less than two years.. debt from which they will never recover.
Allergists, pediatric neurologists, developmental pediatricians, radiologists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and physical therapists will be considered part of “this child’s” team. Medical histories for “this child” will be stored in the brains of his parents, to be recited on command with each new provider. Frequent fights for insurance coverage will ensue.
There will be successes. There will be regression. There will be the day when a “real” diagnosis is in the foreseeable future. But until then, parents are still treated with the assumption that they are just this generation’s version of the Refrigerator Mom. There will always be fights in the medical community, and in circles of parents, educators, therapists, about the true cause of autism.
You know what? I don’t care. I don’t. I don’t care what caused my child’s autism. He is so much more than that. But. I will move heaven and earth to get him what he needs, you can take that to the bank.
The mantra du jour is “Awareness is not enough”. It’s dead on. That’s why today’s “Refrigerator Parents” have bent over backwards – and will continue to do so until all the help they need is handed to them with the diagnosis – just to make sure everyone’s not just aware of “this child”, but is helping “this child” become…a child.
Caryn of Living With Logan is the stay at home mother of 7 children, living in Southern Utah and devouring all the knowledge she can in the speed of light. Her son Logan is diagnosed with high functioning Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder. Logan also has unexplained seizures and multiple severe allergies causing him to maintain a VERY restrictive gfcfsfcf diet (gluten, casein, soy, egg and corn free).
I read this an am immediately outraged by the dismissal and constant blaming, even in the past, on parenting when some things clearly aren’t parenting. I’m also honored to be amongst other parents like Caryn who work so hard to get children who need a voice every opportunity to find it. Thanks Caryn.
What are your thoughts?