What is the role of faulty parenting in the etiology of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

Updated: Sep 30, 2019
  • Author: James Robert Brasic, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Caroly Pataki, MD  more...
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In the 1940s, in his seminal papers that first identified autism, the child psychiatrist Leo Kanner conjectured that infantile autism resulted from rejection of the infant by emotionally cold parents ("refrigerator mothers"). In the 1950s and 1960s, Bruno Bettelheim popularized this idea. Since then, careful family studies have disproved the hypothesis that the development of autistic disorder in children is caused by faulty parenting. Sensitive clinicians communicate to parents that their parenting skills did not cause their child's autism. Repeated communication of this fact will help to minimize the guilt often experienced by parents of autistic children.

The causes of autistic disorder are unknown. Hypotheses include obstetric complications, infection, genetics, and toxic exposures. [52, 53, 54] None of these, however, has been established as a definite etiology.

Many factors have been associated with the risk for ASD, including maternal and paternal ages of 35 years or older, Caucasian or Asian race of mother or father, and college graduation of mother or father. [55]  

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