Since the condition was first recognised in the 1940s, parents have been and felt blamed for their children’s autism. Today, most people no longer believe this, but a lingering doubt continues to niggle many parents.
Autism was first identified in the era of psychoanalysis, when professionals looked closely at relationships to explain disability and mental illness. Childhood “autistic withdrawal” was thought to be an emotional and relational problem. Parents were blamed for their children’s autism because psychoanalysts thought cold, detached parenting must be the cause of their extreme withdrawal from the social world. Some parents were seen to interact with their children in ways that were interpreted as demanding and emotionally distant, rather than supportive and warm.
But the predominant psychoanalytic view has gradually been replaced with a biomedical approach to understanding autism.