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Friday, March 02, 2007

Parenting styles- does culture effect the incidence of autism?

I may have deviant children but their problems are exacerbated, indeed caused, by their parentage. Autistic children shouldn’t be cursed with British parents, they should be nurtured by American ones, or failing that, Italian would do. If I had different children, I would be a perfect parent, or at least a perfect British parent. My children would be silent and well behaved. They would be silent and well behaved or they would spend their lives in the coal cellar. If I had known in advance that California had no coal cellars,then I would certainly have chosen another State to live in. There again, when we arrived, we had no idea that breathing the air and drinking the water would result in fertility for an aged person.

As it has turned out, my children are extremely fortunate to have been born in this country, mainly because we parents have been forced to re-assess our parenting style and adopt an entirely new course. Now if they hadn’t of been autistic we could probably have got away with the old style, but that style, is a particularly bad match for an autistic child = ‘You want me to be quiet? Fine, no problem, I’m more than happy, if not happier, if I never have to communicate with you verbally ever, that suits me just fine and don’t worry about the coal cellar, it’s an ideal spot for me, nice and dark and quiet and I can bury myself under half a tonne of coal, couldn’t be much more perfect. You think this is punishment, well you’d dead wrong, I’m as happy as lark in here, now just shut the door, go about your business and leave me in peace, preferably alone, for as long as you possibly can.’

That’s not the kind of reaction I anticipated. I expected compliance. These days, I don’t expect compliance, in fact I have no expectations whatsoever, it’s much better that way, because every now and again, they’ll tease me with a choice morsel, a tantalizing little possibility that we can approximate what is considered to be ‘normal.’ Luckily, life is so confusing these days, that I have lost track of what ‘normal’ is. Indeed I doubt whether 'normal' is up to snuff. [translation = worth having in the first place]

But American parents do it so naturally, without effort, as if they’ve absorbed parenting skills from the cradle, which is very humbling for the rest of us. If an American person has an autistic child, then they have a head start on dealing with the situation. Not so the Brit. Take a simple request; “Nigel dear? Would you mind terribly taking the cutlery over to the sink for me, when you have a free moment, no rush, don’t put yourself out at all?” This to an autistic child? I don’t think so. You’re not going to get very far with that line, especially if the child is American, as they won’t know what ‘cutlery’ is for a start. [translation = flatware / silverware, though not necessarily made of silver]

Secondly, if there is a speech delay, there are just far too many words, irrelevant words, with a whole clutter of superfluous politenesses, that are lost on anyone not originating from the Mother country. If you couple this with a soft tone of voice, often barely audible, and zero eye contact, you can see that even the very best of children, autistic or otherwise, aren’t going to pay much heed. 'And jolly good thing too!' I hear you cry. None of that mealy mouthed rubbish [translation = trash] for us, we do it the right way, hunker down, gain attention and eye contact, speak clearly and directly, in simple sentences, in an authoritative or excessively cheerful tone, because whatever it is, it’s going to be exciting and fun and we all want to do it, right?

If you can throw in a few hand gestures and the right body language as well, then all power to you, but that’s probably only for Italians or those who have graduated to the advanced degree of parenting. With a typical child, you’re right on. With an autistic child, at the bare minimum, you have at least touched on the chance of success.

Brits are severely disadvantaged by the prevalence of stiff upper lips, which means that the mouth doesn’t move very much, which does not captivate an autistic audience. We’ll gloss over the teeth issue for now, as I see no point in complete destruction with one dental reference.

Suffice to say, that the ‘hands off’ icy approach of many Brits, exactly matches the 'apparent' attitude of many an autistic child. Many of them don’t want to be touched anyway, so you’re just playing into their hands, as it were, or in effect, permitting them to keep their hands, and indeed their whole beings, separate and unsullied by too much demonstrative affection. Other autistic child who may crave physical contact, are going to come up short too.

With the refrigerator mothers theory, a la "Bettelheim - [fascinating but grim]" rearing it's ugly head again, I am inclined to believe that his samples must have been Europeans. Autism may not be genetic but more cultural genealogy? But Europeans are such a mixed bag that it would be mistake to damn the Italians, Irish, Spanish, Portuguese and French in one fell swoop. Perhaps then, it is the more Germanic types that we need to condemn? But they are not known for their reticence. What other country's culture can we blame? Perhaps we need to plot cultural differences throughout the world to see where they proliferate?

Even if we could trace back the cultural differences to Europe and then track them across to the States for a longitudinal study, I think that they would be been watered down and transformed by experience, or is that just the old nature v. nurture controversy?

Fortunately for you, most Brits have no other option but to convert, otherwise what’s the point of being here? However, some people are more pig headed than others, they hold out for a decade, waiting for Americans to revert back to colonial days.

Now those are the people who really benefit from having autistic children, not to mention any names of course. Better late than never.


Anonymous said...

I don't mean to be a humourless Brit, but neither I nor any of the "autism mums" of my acquaintance are remotely "hands off and icy", or in any way refrigerator-like. In fact not one of the British stereotypes you mention are anything like anyone I know, parent or otherwise.

I just don't find cultural stereotypes of this type helpful or funny.

A Bishops Wife said...

I am an American Indian, Irish, Scottish American. I was blessed with twin boys (now 8 yrs,old) and a 5 year old boy. I am 45 so you know I was a late bloomer!

One of the twins has Aspergers and the 5 year old is HF to moderate on the scale (I guess).

I enjoyed your peice and find it helpful to laugh at myself and the situations I find myself in. Things like:
"How do I get this child inside? It is raining and he has decided to lay in the street, refuseing to get up and come in. The bus driver thinks we are nuts! I know she does! He feels like a ton! It is as though he is stuck to the road or something! I am making a fool of myself. I know I am. Oh Lord please help me!"
It is funny when I look back on it but at the time I was stressed to tears.

I know the Autism in my family is genetic...has to be. My dads brother was what we in these modern times call "High functioning to Moderate". Hmmmmm...

...Maybe you have inspired me write something.

My mother went to England years ago, with a friend she had from there. It was the highlight of her life. She stayed with friends and not in hotels. The pictures of the country side a just awesome.

Kevin Charnas said...

HA! Someone under the mysterious name of "anonymous" needs to spend some time in a coal bin.

Stereotypes exist for a reason. When they most probably are not the majority, they do represent a certain population of a said group. Stereotypes don't spring from nothing.

And believe me, I know. I'm still asked to represent "my group" where the stereotypes abound. It will no doubt be socially acceptable to laugh at my "group" and its stereotypes for the rest of my life.

I have NO idea how difficult it must be to raise and care for a challenged child/children. I can't imagine.

However, I do know of some difficulties myself. And I do know what it's like to almost die. Literally.

Life is short. And I'd rather be laughing, than crying. Because if I don't laugh, I will be crying. Mainly because I'm one of the ones paying attention. But we shouldn't take life so seriously, we're never going to get out alive.

I had a very uptight aunt who on a New Year's Eve went to use the restroom while at a party full of my drunk Irish relatives. She mistakingly opened the door to the basement, rather than the restroom. She closed the door behind her, fell down the stairs and landed in the coal bin.

When she managed to pull her self back up and walk back up the stairs to the party, once the party of my drunk Irish relatives caught a glimpse of her, covered head to toe in soot, there wasn't a dry eye, or panties (I imagine) in the place.

I think spiritually, it was good for her.

Sorry...I've written a small novel here.

AshleyLeo said...

Per usual, I thoroughly enjoyed your post. It gave me a fresh appreciation for different cultures. Your sense of humor and insight is incredible. I can see how you must really be so aware of what you say far more than what I have had to do.

Even here in the states I find cultural differences between my home state of California and New England. They are so different it's really like a new country to me!

I've adapted by stopping myself from saying "dude" outside of the house and I've become more polite. I also be sure to wear clean clothes (no sweats) when I am in public (sorry, coffee spill, you won't see the light of day). I also refrain from wearing tie-dyes every day, to just once a week.

I am still myself, but a bit less self-concious.

kristina said...

Have been reading Born on a Blue Day and getting a picture (from Tammet) of growing up in Britain with undiagnosed Asperger's and epilepsy and some (as he writes) very understanding, very kindly. But that's just me reading one book......one could argue that some Chinese parents are emotionally distant, physically restrained types........ To me, it's more about how different cultures respond to autism and to teaching and understanding autistic persons. From your blog, I'd say that your being a "stranger in a strange land" goes some way (even a long way) to understanding your lovely guys.

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