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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.

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