Autism: How parents make a difference

Autism was first identified in the era of psychoanalysis, when professionals looked closely at relationships to explain disability and mental illness. Childhood “autistic withdrawal” was thought to be an emotional and relational problem.

Parents were blamed for their children’s autism because psychoanalysts thought cold, detached parenting must be the cause of their extreme withdrawal from the social world. Some parents were seen to interact with their children in ways that were interpreted as demanding and emotionally distant, rather than supportive and warm.

But the predominant psychoanalytic view has gradually been replaced with a biomedical approach to understanding autism.

A different perspective

We now believe autism spectrum disorders are based in biology – the result of something about how the brain develops. It’s still accepted that some parents have trouble interacting with their children with autism. But this isn’t their fault; these children are, by definition, difficult to interact with.

Children with autism have social interaction and communication difficulties and engage in atypical restricted, repetitive behaviours. These core symptomslimit their ability to interact with others, and get in the way when others try to engage them.


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