April 9, 2012

Once mothers — labeled "refrigerator mothers" — were blamed for autism in their children.

It seems so cruel and retrograde now, but:
In the absence of any biomedical explanation for what causes autism after the telltale symptoms were first described by scientists, Bruno Bettelheim, a University of Chicago professor and child development specialist, and other leading psychoanalysts championed the notion that autism was the product of mothers who were cold, distant and rejecting, thus deprived of the chance to "bond properly". The theory was embraced by the medical establishment and went largely unchallenged into the mid-1960s, but its effects have lingered into the 21st century....
As embarrassing and offensive as that sounds to us today, here comes a new way to blame mothers for autism. Ironically, it's refrigerator-related. NPR reports:

A new study in the journal Pediatrics suggests that moms who are obese or have diabetes are more likely to have a child with autism or another developmental problem....

Obesity was the most common risk factor, affecting more than 20 percent of mothers with an autistic child. Also, obesity increases the risk that a woman will have diabetes during pregnancy, and can also increase the risk for high blood pressure.

"Obesity really affects the mother's physiology aside from the fact that she's carrying around a lot of extra weight," Hertz-Picciotto says....

"We're talking about a fetal brain that could be suffering from a lack of oxygen," she says.
Guilt up again, mothers. It might be your fault. Maybe. Just in case...
So it's clearly a good idea for women who are overweight or obese to try to slim down before becoming pregnant, Hertz-Picciotto says.
I love how they don't really need to prove anything. Just establish a correlation, and then, why not add more pressure on women to do something we've been leaning on them to do for other reasons anyway? You already know you need to lose weight, so here's a good one: If you have an autistic child after you failed to lose weight, people will always be able to think maybe, just maybe, she did that to her child.

Refrigerator mother.

35 comments:

Hagar said...

I heard Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC's "TV doctor, commenting on Whitney Huston's death, state that it was due to Huston's cigarette smoking, marijuans, some prescription drugs I don't remember the names of, using heroin, and snorting cocaine, in that order.

Quayle said...

Hold on a minute!

Bruno Bettelheim, a University of Chicago professor and child development specialist, and other leading psychoanalysts championed the notion that autism was the product of mothers

You're telling me that a scientists at an elite university was wrong?

That can't be.

Scientists at top universities are never wrong. They can't be wrong.

If you don't believe every word they write, you are an anti-rational intellectual neanderthal with epistemological closure.

edutcher said...

Autism is up a good bit these days, so I suppose everybody's looking for a correlation.

But, from the quote, it sounds like they're trying to come up with an explanation, rather than having real evidence.

PS One of the daughters of The Blonde's best bud from work (the one whose sister she's helping care for) has an autistic son, but she isn't overweight or diabetic or anything like that.

Jim Gust said...

Friend of the family had triplets. One of the three babies was autistic from birth, the other two normal. The autistic kid was initially diagnosed as deaf, for his nonresponsiveness to sound, and a year or so later the doctors realized their mistake.

Point is, his autism was not a function of post-birth environment, and two siblings shared the identical natal environment. To me, that suggests a specific genetic defect is responsible, and is beyond the mother's control. Although I guess being the womb together isn't necessarily an "identical" environment in those circumstances, it's possible that triplets don't have equal access to nourishment.

EMD said...

Twenty percent? Hmmm, I'm not buying that.

PatCA said...

I would guess that either this study was funded by the a grant from the nanny/tyrant HHS or its authors were angling for a grant.

Wasn't there a link recently on Insta about how many peer reviewed studies cannot be replicated?

Louise B said...

I have Type 1 diabetes and had it during all three of my pregnancies. None of my children are autistic. Two majored in chemistry and one in accounting. One of the chemistry majors was on a three time state championship soccer team. (All state twice to show he wasn't sitting on the bench.) He is now going for his MD/PhD with a full scholarship. I hate how everyone tries to blame diabetes for stuff. I wonder how come researchers never see that possibly being a Democrat causes these problems. There seems to be just as much of a basis for their other assertions.

Col Mustard said...

What PatCA said.

A friend has twin autistic girls. She's slim, active and personally 'warm' to the max.

The tales she tells of govt. programs, experts and burueacrats who seemingly work to protect turf and points-of-view v. autistics would make you cry.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Autism is up a good bit these days, so I suppose everybody's looking for a correlation

Is Autism really up? Or are we broadening the range of behaviours that we diagnose as Autism?

Years ago a child who might just be considered a bit odd or off because he/she didn't talk until quite late, is overly interested in specific topics and extremely orderly and not really all that interested in making 'friends', what just left alone and either grew out of the behaviours .....or.....became Steve Jobs or something.

Now, today...any deviation from the cookie cutter vision of childhood is suddenly a syndrome that needs to be classified and medicated. Boys especially are singled out for this treatment and dosed into submission for what for thousands and hundreds of thousands of years has been considered typical boy/male characteristics.

This isn't to say that there aren't real and serious conditions and cases of Autism, but I think we are over diagnosing and over reacting.

edutcher said...

Good point. I'd heard 1 in 88 babies, but you're right in being wary.

Is this the new ADD?

Peter said...

Blaming autism on "refrigerator mothers" seems retrograde today because it was hard on mothers.

And so the new claim is that autism is a brain disorder.

But given a choice, would you rather have a refrigerator mother, or a brain disorder? After all, one can overcome less-than-ideal parenting. But brain disorders tend to be for keeps.

So, today we're harder on those with autism but easier on the mothers of those with autism. And how, exactly, is that more enlightened?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Given that the Government and Government sponsored studies are always jumping the shark, I tend to not believe anything that these studies publish.

Give them 5 to 10 years and they will come out with a new position that is 100% opposite of the one they take today. In the meantime, people are needlessly worried and lives are ruined.

Ignore them and they will go away.

Hagar said...

Weeks, DBQ, weeks.

Bryan C said...

"Ignore them and they will go away."

I only wish that they would go away.

We're still living by bad nutritional information from the 1970's that was given the force of law. And a new law is always the right answer. For example, the morning TV personalities nodding sagely as that doctor claiming that sugar is "toxic" and should be treated as a controlled dangerous substance.

MadisonMan said...

Why isn't my kid doing the same things as that kid over there?

That's the root problem. Comparing your kid to everyone else's kids. It's not like all kids develop the same. But Parenting Magazines have to sell copies, so let's frighten everyone!

You find what you are looking for. Autism is broadly defined, so it can be stretched to include a lot of diagnoses.

John Lynch said...

There's no good casual links with autism except family history and difficult births.

It seems to me that "autism," like "cancer," is a collection of diagnoses. There are many different cancers and there are probably many different autisms.

There are probably many, perhaps completely unrelated, causes that cause similar symptoms. The breadth of the diagnoses seems to grow every year (1 in 88? Really? How is this a disorder, then?), which makes it even harder to pin down a cause.

I'd put my money on a collection of genetic causes, with genes for intelligence (which is also a huge collection of genes) carrying a lot of baggage that can cause autism. Even then, putting severely disabled people next to the functional, but odd, confuses the issue.

What's probably going to happen is that the diagnoses will inflate a bit more before it goes out of fashion and everyone forgets about it. That won't help the people who are left staring at a world that seems made for someone else.

Astro said...

Every even moderately scientific journal ought to have this under their masthead: Correlation does not equal causation.
Though, I suppose if they understood that, their journals would be pretty slim.

traditionalguy said...

The mothers are a key to personal development. It is not so much ignoring the child, who could then find other persons to talk with them about their fears and needs.

The problem is the double minded Mother who loves the child one day and despise the child another day and throws in a message that it is the child's fault. The child internalizes that conditional love message for life.

JAL said...

Huh. I thought it was schizophrenia (the old "double bind" mothering).

He was a jerk.

Anglelyne said...

Peter: So, today we're harder on those with autism but easier on the mothers of those with autism. And how, exactly, is that more enlightened?

Huh?

I would think the "enlightened" approach would involve sifting and testing the evidence. Since when is the search for an objective physical basis for a disorder indicative of a state of unenlightenment?

TG: The problem is the double minded Mother who loves the child one day and despise the child another day and throws in a message that it is the child's fault. The child internalizes that conditional love message for life.

Thanks for clearing up the causes of autism for us, TG.

Now if somebody could just diagnose the cause of TG's recent descent into meandering looney-toonery.

AllieOop said...

Heard on CNN a little while ago, that obesity in pregnant women associated with delayed development and Autism spectrum.

More from US News and World Report

Mom's obesity linked to Autism

Tiny Bunch said...

I'm going to put my bet on it being something that the obese mothers ingested. Like Diet Coke.

But I don't have a PhD.

AllieOop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AllieOop said...

I should've read the full blog post, well at any rate it now appears that obese pregnant women are to blame. I suspect it's far more complicated.

It is tempting to try to figure out what obese pregnant women may have ingested as Tiny Bunch suggests. Maybe the consistently higher blood sugars are to blame in gestational diabetes.

It was once thought that BG's consistently over 130 would be needed to cause damage, now they say even BGs in the low 100s can cause diabetic changes in vital organs and blood vessels.

What could it do to a developing fetus?

traditionalguy said...

Anglelyne...No body knows any thing at all about the cause of autism, other than the need to pretend that they do.

Part of the post's subject was what to blame on mothers. What I commented is all that we can blame on them for sure.

But if the Autism unknowns need to get itself a submissive scapegoat to motivate the believers about a known cause that can be treated, then by all means go after the mothers.

AllieOop said...

I think we need to go after any possible connection, without passing judgement on anyone. If there truly is a connection between obese pregnant women and autism any mother would/should be willing to research any possibility rather than dismiss new evidence.

With the alarming increase in rates of Autism Spectrum disorders, we need to be aggressive in researching causes and connections thoroughly.

Blue@9 said...

Refrigerator Mothers. I've heard it all now. It's like an X-Men comic: Refrigerator Mom versus Tiger Mom!

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Refrigerator Mothers. I've heard it all now. It's like an X-Men comic: Refrigerator Mom versus Tiger Mom

Then Soccer Mom and Hockey Mom pull up in a humungous 4x4 SUV, get out and kick both of their asses.

wyo sis said...

Virtually 100 percent of criminals had mothers. Also 100 percent of Harvard graduates had mothers. Clearly mothers are the problem.

leslyn said...

I never really liked Bethlehem, despite his reputation. He bothered me. His writings, though they were supposed to be at least somewhat sympathetic to children, seemed "cold, distant and rejecting" themselves.

Teri said...

traditionalguy said...
The mothers are a key to personal development. It is not so much ignoring the child, who could then find other persons to talk with them about their fears and needs.

The problem is the double minded Mother who loves the child one day and despise the child another day and throws in a message that it is the child's fault. The child internalizes that conditional love message for life.


And your expertise in autism family dynamics comes from where?

I've been reading your comments for a long time. I hadn't realized you were a troll.

William said...

There's also been a huge uptick in allergies. Hayfever, however, doesn't seem to attract the same amount of mythology, denial, and anger that accompanies autism. But it does show that for whatever reason a non infectious illness can suddenly become prevalent. And it has nothing to do with bad parenting, sugar intake, or inhaling second hand smoke......Bettelheim was a world class douchebag. In addition to adding an extra layer of guilt to those poor mothers, it turns out that he physically abused many of the children that were left in his care......Schizophrenia, homosexuality, and autism used to be blamed on parental lapses by advanced people who put their faith in science. We're not so much more advanced than medieval peasants who believed that birth defects were caused by parents having sex on church holy days.

d-day said...

The significant risk factor that heavier mothers all shared is that all were cared by doctors caring for heavy mothers. The perception that heavier mothers are at risk for gestational hypertension and diabetes could lead to an increase in "cautious" monitoring ... and there are studies that show a statistically significant correlation between increased ultrasound use and autism.


Or that could be complete B.S., but there's no verifiable facts given to us in the linked article that would make their explanation any likelier than the alternative hypothesis.

William said...

I am grateful to Bettelheim for his book Uses of Enchantment. In that book, he psychoanalyzed fairy tales. Turns out that that kissing the frog thing was how repressed peasantsra talked about blowjobs. Back in the day, I used to like discussing that book with cute psych majors. That's how repressed college students enjoy oral sex. The uses of Uses of Enchantment.

Thomas W said...

Since the overall obesity rate in the US is over 20%, if 20% of mothers of autistic children are obese, this would seem to argue autism is caused by not being obese.

While I haven't looked at statistics for obesity during pregnancy, my unscientific estimate from the number of overweight young women I see in everyday life leads me to want much more confirmation of any autism link.