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3/20/16blog post

should parents be blamed for autism?

Autism is a severe developmental disorder evident within a child’s first few years of life. It is caused parents are not to blame by mothers, often referred to as “refrigerator moms” who are typically well-educated but cold and rejecting toward their children. Since the infant does not receive the acceptance and stimulation from a warm parenting figure, the baby turns inward and retreats into their own world of self-stimulation.

What you read above is a summary of what I was taught in my Developmental Psychology class many years ago. It was completely erroneous.

It was fashionable when I was in college to blame parents for their children’s problems. That mentality is as prevalent and wrong today as it was 50 years ago.

The publication of “Not in Your Genes” by noted British psychologist Oliver James is reigniting this debate. Dr. James argues that the role of genetics as an explanation for mental disorders is greatly exaggerated. “No gene has been shown to have any significant effect on any psychological traits,” asserts James.

“There are a lot of things that people think are nature but which are really nurture,” remarked James in a recent interview. “There is simply no proof that genetics is related to any mental disorder, whether it is psychosis or ADHD.”

If not genetics, then what?

James asserts that when things go wrong, the fault rests with the environment, primary parents. Interactions between parents and kids, particularly in the first three years of life, determine a child’s outcome. It’s not that parents are intentionally bad. They simply act in ways, either due to ignorance or unconscious factors that cause problems for their kids.

This all seems rather stupid to me.

It makes absolutely no sense that parents are in any way the cause of autism, psychosis, or most severe mental problems. I’m not a geneticist, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of James’ review of the scientific literature. However, even if a genetic link hasn’t yet been discovered, does that mean it doesn’t exist?

It’s ridiculous to conclude that parents or the environment are to blame just because we have yet to discover a genetic or a chemical link to these problems.

There is no denying that parents are critical in their children’s lives. Early experiences matter a great deal. However, superb parents can raise kids with mental problems. This book concerns me because I’m afraid that parents will be reluctant to seek help for their kids for fear of being judged as the cause of all of their problems.

Let’s stop blaming parents and start helping kids.