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A Psychologist's Thoughts on Clinical Practice, Behavior, and Life

Fanciful Explanations of Autism and Parental Guilt

While parents rarely feel guilty when their child becomes physically ill, this is not true when they develop emotional problems.
Autism is perhaps the most affected disturbance by this attitude for, in its severest form, it devastates family life. Recent infant research has confirmed what clinicians have long known: that the parent-child interaction plays an overwhelming role in its development. Yet, denial of this fact persists, as expressed in the continued, failed attempts to relate autism to vaccines or pollution or whatever, any cause but that. This is understandable for the sight of a severely autistic child horrifies and no parent would willingly accept any blame for this.
All children have strengths and limitations, as do parents who had their own childhood struggles. A parent's personality must mesh with their unselected child, and mismatches naturally occur. The unconscious is very powerful, and one must recognize its power. For this reason, once a child’s emotional problem is recognized and help for it is sought, any parental guilt is undeserved and counter-productive.
A positive thought is that autism is vastly, inaccurately over-diagnosed. In my long experience, in both medical and psychological settings, I have seen fewer than five severely disturbed, self-mutilating autistic children, and fewer than twenty autistic children with far lesser symptoms. Moreover, young children whose behavior exhibit some autistic features can be treated and have these symptoms disappear through ordinary play psychotherapy, sometimes in just a few months. And with lengthy, extensive services, major change can be made in even the most disturbed autistic child’s life.
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