Does autism exist?

Has our scientific community identified a genetic component in autism?

The evidence does not support this. In a recent study of genetic contributions to autism (Weiss et al. 2008) a gene was found in 1 per cent of cases of autism. However, this gene was also found in 0 .1 per cent of the general population.

Is this enough to say the condition is genetic?

One way to interpret this information is to accept the accuracy of the findings but also to accept that they are not relevant to the causation or amelioration of autism (cf. Rutter et al. 1999)

Interestingly, exposure to danger can change the expression of genes (Hanson and Gottesman 2007) for such conditions as major depressive disorder (Mill and Petronis 2007), psychosis (Kan et al. 2004) and schizophrenia (Pertonis 2004).  

This suggests that there are environmental components to these presentations. It suggests that the environment we grow up in has the potential to distort us on a microbiological level. Yet we seem insistent on shifting responsibility for these presentations away from the parents to their children (Crittenden 2008).

Why might this be?

One explanation is that we are moving away from the “mother-blaming” tendencies of our past. This is a good thing. It cannot be one parent’s responsibility to nurture a child that has two parents.

However, as part of a culture are we not all part of an extended family? Do we not naturally incorporate these notions into our dealings with each other and each other’s children? For example, our children might call close family friends “uncle” or “auntie”, indeed, these names are a sign of how close we are to these figures. These names are titles and privileges and they have to be earned. They are bilateral demonstrations of loyalty and trust. Further, most religions organise around one patriarchal figure, one father, one parent for one family, “We are all God’s children.”

If we continue to take responsibility away from parents we continue to take responsibility away from society as a whole. We contextualise the problem away from the source of the disturbance and we place responsibility for these psychosocial problems at the very feet of the people who are least likely to be able to stand up for themselves, our children.

It does not surprise me that we do so. Taking our society in hand is a mammoth task. We would have to move away from the models of capitalist celebrity with it’s cunning uniforms, language and postures, that currently dominate out TVs and newspapers. We would have to install a system of education that prizes relationships above all else, where our children learn how to be good citizens and parents before they learn the socially valueless rituals of capitalism like competition, assessment and failure. We would have to challenge science and reduce it to a more functional level, a level where it is viewed as merely a tool rather than the only lens through which to view human endeavour. The current status of science is dangerous, it is anti-human. It seeks to destroy anything resembling faith and trust and seeks only to laud that that can be weighed and measured, that that can be counted, that that can be bought and sold.

Today society, the large family I live and work in, tells me that if I work with a young person who has been diagnosed with autism or ADHD then I am working with someone who has a disability and that I have had no input whatsoever into that disability. In some small way I am able to absolve myself of my social responsibility towards that young person. I end up supporting them carry a burden that, like the Emperor’s New Clothes, does not exist.

As a man, a father and a therapist, whatever intervention I offer in my work, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), Psychodrama, Person Centered Therapy, Humanistic Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Psychoanalysis, Solution Focused Therapy, Integrative Therapy or Family Therapy I will be mindful that I am part of a social system that I am responsible for enhancing.