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

Why Fanciful Explanations of Autism Persist

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 of these attitudes which, in its severest form, devastates family life.


Though recent infant research has confirmed what clinicians have long sensed, that the parent-child interaction plays an overwhelming role in its development, denial of this fact persists. Thus we read of continued, failed attempts to relate autism to vaccines or pollution or whatever, any cause but parenting. This is understandable since the sight of a severely autistic child horrifies and no parent would willingly accept 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. Thus, 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 and 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 diagnosable autistic children with lesser symptoms. Moreover, young children whose behavior exhibit some autistic features can 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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