Home Forums The Science "The refrigerator mother theory of autism"

This topic contains 6 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  Damon 2 weeks, 1 day ago.

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  • jaydenwilson3150

    In Freedom: The End of The Human Condition Jeremy Griffith writes ‘As with Janov’s lack-of-real-love explanation for ADHD, autism is most often a disastrous consequence of a mother’s inability to emotionally relate to and empathetically connect with her newborn baby.’ This topic is of interest to me as a psychologist. I’m interested to know how this could be justified. The theory known as the refrigerator mother hypothesis deveoped by Bettelheim is now considered completely discredited by psychologists today after Bernard Rimland’s work in the 1970s entitled ‘Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior’. He found in the book the theory to be based on nothing more than ‘anecdotal and circumstantial evidence’. Today’s research tends to agree and has found that environmental factors and genetic factors to be the main causes of autism.

    I have spoken to many psychologists and experts in the field of Autism regarding this topic. In their expert assessments based on years of experience none of them believe in the idea that a lack of parental love is the cause of autism. Am I to believe they are all incorrect in their assessment of children with autism? Any constructive comments on this issue would be appreciated.

  • Damon

    Hi Jayden, you’re right that our lack of love as a reason for autism is almost universally denied. What I would like readers to consider however, is that if humans have suffered from an inability to explain our now horrendously psychologically upset human condition, it was absolutely necessary that we lived in denial of any unbearably confronting truths; hide in Plato’s dark cave where no exposing light could reach us. It follows that when we at last find the redeeming understanding of the human condition, as I think any fair reading of Jeremy Griffith’s book ‘FREEDOM’ will indicate we now have in that book, then all that denial is no longer necessary. So I would encourage anybody reading your post to read ‘FREEDOM’, or it’s condensation ‘Transform Your Life’, and see for themselves if it doesn’t explain the human condition and make all the denials that we’ve had to employ obsolete. There are many unbearably confronting truths that can now be safely confronted and there is probably no more torturous concept that we can now confront than the idea that lack of love is the cause of most cases but not all cases of autism. The arrival of understanding of the human condition is shocking, but because the explanation is entirely compassionate, it is bearable.
    Also, it is the level of devastation of our species’ original all-loving innocent world EVERYWHERE now, not just in parents, that is beyond many children’s ability to cope with now, especially for the more sensitive ones. Everywhere a child looks there is madness, wrongness, bewildering pain, in terms of what their soul expects — as described by R.D. Laing in par. 123, and by Isaiah in par. 182. The honesty of those quotes might be of help to you.

  • Loxodonta locus

    Hi there. I think that “lack of parental love” as a general term is probably a red-herring. The problem is much more fundamental than that. Bear with me.

    About five years ago online, I came across the criticism excerpted below about the Gina Ford “Contented Baby” method. Ford’s method is about establishing a baby’s sleeping and feeding routines from the beginning with an emphasis on so called “self-settling”. Putting Freedom to one side, I’m sure many parents would look askance at the method.

    I have posted on this subject before in other areas and I just wanted to give you all a warning about Gina Ford and her methods of baby care. I for the life of me cannot understand why she is so popular.

    I work with fostered kids and specialise in Babies with attachment disorders. Attachment disorders occur due to neglect and actually change the shape of the baby’s brain irreversibly plus also create many behavioural problems later on.

    the Gina Ford method basically uses what techniques I have heard to be ‘self-settling’ and controlled crying etc. Basically, in a young baby (0-12 months) any lack of responsiveness actually causes a sharp rise in Cortisol which is a chemical released at high levels of stress and anxiety – the same released in neglected children.

    This substance is toxic to a young brain and causes developmental problems such as anxiety issues and now may be thouhgt to be a major factor in the cause of ADHD and other behavioural type problems. The child who has elevated cortisol due to the care giver not being responsive to cries etc learn very quickly to give up, which is how Gina Ford heralds her technique as working, when it actually causes a chemical imbalance which as I have said is toxic to the developing brain. This has finally been proven today by swabs taken from babies mouths when using this type of technique.

    I can see why she has a following, to those who do not know the details and neurological functions, the schedule for the child looks appealing for sure. And who doesn’t want a ‘contented baby’? What it actually does is teaches the young baby from a very early age that his/her needs will not be met properly and responsively, and causes high anxiety which won’t be visible from crying etc, he/she has already learnt that crying won’t work.

    Kids who then get older and I end up dealing with them lots who have these type of disorders actually spend the rest of their lives struggling with behaviour issues and also living on survival mode; food becomes their god and it can take them months and months in a responsive environment to work out that they will get fed etc. This is an extreme example, which I often deal with, but a true one nonethless.
    EXCERPT ENDS (found on a forum)

    Arguably for centuries, few humans have been reared in the way we’re meant to be (think bonobos perhaps) and I totally identify with Jeremy’s views on the matter.

    As well, speaking anecdotally, my ex-wife and I followed “Contented Baby” pretty closely and were rewarded with very few sleepless nights and a child that ate fantastically well. Unfortunately, our son was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome at about age four. :(

    I offer these comments not in any way as “proof” of what Jeremy has written on the subject. However, in respect of Freedom’s teleological approach in using existing knowledge to understand the human condition (not sure I worded the preceding clause very well but I know what I mean), in yet another small way I can look at my experiences in life and it helps me understand that Jeremy is right.

    Thanks, Oliver

  • jaydenwilson3150

    Thanks Oliver. I have come across Gina Ford’s ‘Contented Baby’ parenting style. Her work is a scant form of operant conditioning disguised as a parenting style. Few if any psychologists would support it. It would be wiser to take the advice of qualified professionals considering her work is supported by no scientific evidence.

    There isn’t much to say regarding the methods outlined in the book apart from the fact that being a maternity nurse does not qualify an individual to comment on the long-term effectiveness parenting styles.

    If there’s one thing that comes out of this thread it would be to try to use reason and evidence, unclouded by emotion when qualifying opinion.

  • MartyR

    Hi Jayden. Your post is of great interest to me. I am diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, which is now grouped with autism, but at the very light end of the scale. I am one of those who may come across as a little strange sometimes, but you wouldn’t guess I was autistic (I have been diagnosed after an extensive testing process).

    I’d heard about the “refrigerator mother” hypothesis and also heard it was completely discredited, although now I’m not 100% sure. My mother does love me immensely but I do know I was an unwanted baby and she didn’t feel that love for me until I was born. I also had a difficult birth. Obviously you can’t generalize from one case but all my life I have been extremely sensitive to social interaction and self-criticism. I have felt I didn’t understood it completely and felt frustrated and depressed by it. Now, I do feel more positive after reading the theory espoused by Jeremy although very protective of what my mother has achieved for me.

    • jaydenwilson3150

      Hi, I’m not going to comment on anyone’s situation as I am not experiencing your situation. However, I would like to make some key points that contradict the proposed theory of autism. Firstly, autism tends to be more prevalent in males rather than females. Some estimates have it at 3:1, some higher.
      Secondly, in identical twin studies, 77% of identical twins both have autism if one of them do, 31% of fraternal twins share autism if the one of them has autism and 20% of siblings share autism if one of them has autism. How does the refrigerator mother theory of autism explain the higher incidence of autism in a second sibling in identical twins compared with non-identical twins? The higher rate of shared autism between twins would suggest that there is a strong genetic component to autism, at least stronger than that suggested by the theory.

    • Damon

      Jayden, as Jeremy Griffith makes very clear in Chapter 8:11B of ‘FREEDOM’ titled ‘Men and women’s relationship after the emergence of the human condition’, men more than women are responsible for carrying out the corrupting search for knowledge, and as described in paragraph 813, that responsibility has become so onerous that men are finding it almost impossible to carry on that corrupting search. One of the consequences of their crippling burden is that men typically die younger than women, as this quote demonstrates, ‘If women are so oppressed, how come they live much longer than men?’ (Don Peterson review of The Myth of Male Power by Dr Warren Farrell, The Courier Mail, Jun. 1994). I know that Jeremy has responded to the sorts of questions you are asking about identical twins by pointing out the following. He has explained that the crippling responsibility would also explain why men are much more likely to be overwhelmed by life and so become autistic. With regard to identical twins, being identical, in their early years especially they will have very similar feelings and responses to the world, and it’s also well known that they are empathetically and emotionally deeply connected, so that would explain why if life is overwhelming for one, it would likely be overwhelming for the other. It’s also well known that non-identical twins, while not as emotionally connected and similar in feelings as identical twins, are still emotionally very connected, which again would explain why the incidence of autism occurring in twins is greater than the incidence of autism occurring between non-twins. In the case of siblings that aren’t twins, since they share the same mother, it would be expected that there is a higher chance of autism occurring in that family. Even if twins, or siblings, are separated soon after birth, which is a trauma in itself, they still have the same mother, and likely very similar womb and birth experiences, and its well known that the experience of trauma in the womb and at birth can have profound long-lasting psychological effects.