Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Opposite of Bettelheim

I'm not sure who came up with the original refrigerator mother theory -- the idea that autism was caused by unloving mothers -- but according to Wikipedia, Bettelheim was instrumental in the widespread acceptance of the idea. Now, so many years later, we all scoff and are indignant at the idea. Especially us mothers. But am I the only one who looks around and wonders how we got to the other extreme end? No, our inability to love our children didn't cause them to become autistic, but maybe, just maybe, if we have the right extraordinary combination of love, diligence and resources, we can "recover" our children. And by we, I mostly mean mothers (although I know there are lots of dads out there, too). Since we began this journey three years ago, I can't tell you how many books and articles that have been given to me, the well-meaning presenter telling me how inspiring I might find it. Invariably the story involves supermom and a child that makes great progress. Am I the only one who feels the sickening weight of this pressure? Am I the only one who wonders if I couldn't be doing more and loving better? Every single day? It's not healthy, I tell you.

I'm just musing about this tonight. We're coming off of the vacation high -- a vacation where I spent a great deal of time focusing on the R of RDI (Relationship Development Intervention), a vacation where Oliver made some very important discoveries. RDI is where we hang our hat in this house, of course, and it is all about helping parents to help their kids make these discoveries. So yes, I really do believe that parents are an integral part of how kids learn. Especially so for kids on the spectrum. But you know? I don't take the credit for the discoveries that Oliver makes or for all the hard work that goes into the learning that he does everyday. I help him out as best as I can but really, all the credit goes to him. It is his brain making those connections, after all. It's all him. So why, then, do I feel the need to beat myself up during the in-between periods when the learning and growth isn't so obvious?

So I'm just curious: on one end we have Bettelheim and on the other Supermom. ... What does the middle look like?


  1. Anonymous7:46 AM

    i don't know but i'm looking...

  2. Anonymous9:34 AM

    I have always been distrustful of professionals and others who claim that parents have nearly infinite power over their kids' development. I also dislike the "supermom cures child's autism" thing. Who needs that pressure and guilt?

    If we know anything, it's that the blend of nature and nurture is very complex. And I agree that we can't take credit for our kids' accomplishments. The best we can do is create the best environment and relationships we can on a day to day basis and nurture the growth as it happens.

    Looking for that middle ground. Great post!

  3. Fantastic post, Christine! Yes, where is that middle ground?? For all we know, we may be there and not even realize it.

  4. This upsets me more than ANYTHING else about autism coverage in the media. I think the middle looks like us. There are loads more of us living with Autism, than "recovering" our children from it. Good post