Monday, February 6, 2012

A posting from the Autism Ireland Facebook Page

I'm really sad to be sharing this article today as it feels like I have stepped into a time warp that has taken us back to the 1950's when Autism was blamed on so-called "refrigerator mothers" whose coldness towards their children caused them to be developmentally delayed and socially withdrawn.

I will go on record as saying that I am a refrigerator mother; that's where I keep the Prosecco baby! Which I need after reading articles by self pro-claimed parenting "experts" who conveniently have a book to sell and some private speaking engagements to promote their extremely outdated agenda.

Read it if you can - it is best to be properly informed when you need to counter a damaging and troubling argument. Then go to the Autism Ireland page for links to a discussion about the article including an email address of the newspaper that published it. It is apparently an opinion piece so the cynic in me wonders if it is a deliberate attempt to stir up controversy and get subscription clicks for the paper. Disturbingly I found out today that he lectures on "interpersonal communications" and "parent mentoring" at University College Cork. So potentially there is a student being indoctrinated with these ideas right now.

My blog friends like Sharon and Madam Poulet have covered this story very eloquently already and I encourage you to visit and read their response. If only as a sweetly reasoned sorbet to cleanse your brain palate of what follows. My thanks to Jen of Autism Ireland for transposing the print article which has yet to appear online.

"Core Connection" - an article in printed edition of Irish Examiner 3rd Feb

by Irish Autism Action on Friday, 3 February 2012 at 19:28

by Tony Humphreys

Do not read this if you have had a difficult day/week!

A team of researchers at Cambridge University is currently exploring the connection between high-achieving parents, such as engineers, scientists and computer programmers and the development of their children. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, who is the director of the Autism Research Centre at the university, says there are indications that adults who have careers in areas of science and math are more likely to have autistic children.

In studies in 1997 and 2001 it was found that the children and grandchildren of engineers were more likely to be autistic and that mathematicians had higher rates of autism than other professions. What is shocking is that Dr Baron-Cohen and the team of researchers are one: assuming that autism is a scientific fact and, two: missing the glaringly obvious fact that if the adults they researched live predominantly in their heads and possess few or no heart qualities, their children will need to find some way of defending themselves against the absence of expressed love and affection and emotional receptivity.

After all, the deepest need of every child is to be unconditionally loved and the absence of it results in children shutting down emotionally themselves because to continue to spontaneously reach out for love would be far too painful.

Children's wellbeing mostly depends on emotional security - a daily diet of nurture, love, affection, patience, warmth, tenderness, kindness and calm responses to their expressed welfare and emergency feelings. To say that these children have a genetic and/or neurobiological disorder called autism or ASD (autistic spectrum disorder) only adds further to their misery and condemns them to a relationship history where their every thought and action is interpreted as arising from their autism.

It is frequently the case that it is when these children go to school that their emotional and social withdrawal of eccentricities are noticed, mainly by teachers, who themselves can struggle with how best to respond to these children. An unconscious collusion can emerge between parents and teachers to have these children psychiatrically assessed so that the spotlight is put on the children and not their adult carers' own emotional and social struggles. Regretfully, the relationship contexts of the childrens' lives are not examined and their mature development is often sacrificed on the fires of the unresolved emotional defences of those adults who are responsible for their care.

It is important to hold to the fact that these carers do not consciously block their children's wellbeing, but the unconscious hope of children is that other adults (teachers, relatives, educational psychologists, care workers) that when they are emotionally and socially troubled, it is their adult carers who often need more help than they do.

Indeed, my experience in my own psychological practice is that when parents and teachers resolve their own fears and insecurities, children begin to express what they dare not express before their guardians resolved their own emotional turmoil.

A clear distinction needs to be made between the autism described by psychiatrist Leo Kanner in 1943 and the much more recently described ASD (autistic spectrum disorder, often referred to as Asperger's syndrome). The former 'condition' was an attempt to understand severely emotionally withdrawn children, the latter concept, which is being used in an alarmingly and rapidly increasing way, is an attempt to explain children's more moderate emotional and social difficulties. Curiously - and not at all explained by those health and educational professionals who believe that autism and ASD are genetic and/or neurobiological disorders - is the gender bias of being more diagnosed in boys (a ratio of four to one). This bias is also found with ADHD. Surely that gender phenomenon indicates the probability that boys are reared differently to girls and that due to social and cultural factors boys respond to the troubling behaviours of their adult carers in ways that are radically different to girls.

What is equally distressing is that, as for ADHD, a whole industry involving research, assessment, screening, education and treatment has been developed, despite the absence of any scientific basis or test for either the originally 'detected' autism or for the broader construct of ASD.

Sami Timimi, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist and two colleagues rigorously examined over 5000 research articles on autism and ASD and found no scientific basis for what they now refer to as mythical disorders. They outline their findings in their book 'The Myth of Autism' (2011). The conclusion of their indepty studies is that "there is no such thing as autism and the label should be abolished".

The authors are not saying that the children are not emotionally and socially troubled. What they are saying is - and I concur with them - that focus needs to be on the relationship contexts of these children's lives, and to take each child for the individual he or she is and to examine closely the family and community narratives and discover creative possibilities for change and for more dynamic and hopeful stories to emerge for both the children and their carers.

Dr Tony Humphreys is a consultant clinical psychologist, author and national and international speaker. His book 'All About Children" is relevant to todays article. 

What else can you do? Join Twitter and use the hashtag #ilovemyautistic to refute the myths with examples from your own life
eg: "@lisamareedom: #ilovemyautistic son because he cracks me up! And laughing every day keeps me young"
you get the idea. Now go forth and counter!


edited to include: a lovely summary of our #ilovemyautistic tweets on @DrSom 's blog


Anonymous said...

I rang the Examiner today and the editor is looking into this. I am also going to write in a formal complaint. I want a full retraction from this so called doctor. I am also going to complain to the colleges he works in and to RTE for letting him on the air. Someone as ignorant as that should not be allowed to teach or lecture others. For what it's worth he is not exactly regarded highly amongst his peers and I think that says a lot about the man.

Anonymous said...

Out of interest, what makes him a doctor? Is it just some Irish social convention to call all psycho-counselors Dr?

Anonymous said...

Back in May 21 2010, Tony Humphreys blamed asthma on a lack of parental love, titled "The absence of unconditional love in the home is a factor in the onset of asthmatic attacks". He wrote "The causes of asthma are not known and the suggestion of a genetic link is too remote to be seriously considered. Certainly, environmental causes have been posited - dust mites, pollution, over-heated homes — but these don’t ring true because most people who are exposed to these same physical environmental threats do not develop asthma. ... Generally speaking, individuals who are asthmatic are people who are longing for love, fearful of asking for it and fearful of showing it. It is because they want to be loved that they do so much breathing in - as the breath is a substitute for the love they are not receiving and they are reluctant to let the breath go, because they would lose the feeling of fullness that holding the breath provides."

I suppose asthma raises less of a visceral response in Examiner readers, because I do not recall any complaint about this rubbish.

Hammie aka lisadom said...

Hey Anonymous Asthma. That is very interesting that an ex-cleric with no experience of cardio -pulmonary or respiratory health decide to proseltise on Asthma parents too.
I guess us cold heartless Autism parents are more likely to be attached to our computers nerdily taking over the internets...

Actually, I think that Socal Media has actually been embraced by the Autism Community in such a way that we can share and co-ordinate a response world wide very quickly. Ironically the old ways of co-ordinating protest would have excluded us as it is very difficult to go to meetings or protests- but online is a whizz.

If you want to take this further, I know that us geeks would get behind you. Have 2 sisters with Asthma, and one has very serious allergies - it is no joke.

Thanks for Sharing xx

Anonymous said...

if this doctor by PhD thesis, not by medicine, causes parents to believe that he has a remedy for reversing this 'very complex and potentially devastating condition' (medical psychiatrist Lorna wing) he may not care whether he is right or wrong, but he will be busy, and he will be wealthy beyond his dreams.....PM

Anonymous said...

"...some day every parent in Ireland will be as good a parent as Tony Humphries......"

Anonymous said...

We do not even know if he has a PhD - it is not listed anywhere on his website. It is not illegal to use the title, but it should not be used to (mis)represent medical expertise. He is not a registered psychologist.

Anonymous said...

PhD in Hypnosis from Birmingham, 1983 -

maumc said...

I once admired Mr. Humphries. when a newly qualified teacher I devoured his publications on dealing with the unruly students. I then grew up and have noticed an ever increasing level of weirdness[eccentricities] in his articles which in my experiences as a second level teacher of now 20 years have little to do with the real world. His Doctorate is a PHd i.e a Doctor in a philosophical sense... he produced a thesis and it withstood the analysis of his peers.
but he is like many intellectuals removed from realities of daily living.

Anonymous said...

Any improvements on these suggestions for action? -

I would like to focus on some action. I have no hope for Dr Tony Humphreys acting. I would like the following:

1) The HSE, PSI, Department of Health - State whether Humphreys is entitled to use the terms "consultant clinical psychologist" or "clinical psychologist" or even plain "psychologist" to describe himself. He is not a registered psychologist and probably has not met the training requirements for clinical practice. Does his use of the titles comply with the Health & Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (
and the Psychological Society of Ireland ( accreditation of Clinical Psychologist guidelines? (

2) The Irish Examiner - Retract the article. The Examiner has removed the article without comment or explanation (and despite a defence of freedom of speech). Dr Andrew Wakefield's retracted paper on autism remains on the Lancet website with the word "RETRACTED" in large red type ( and accompanied by an editorial explaining precisely why it has been retracted (

3) The Irish Examiner (and all news outlets) - Do not permit "experts" to style themselves with unverified titles and expertise.

4) University College Cork - Restrict Dr Humphreys titles to those appropriate to an university psychologist, prevent his use of the university for advertising his private enterprises and ensure that he does not teach material in direct conflict with the Psychological Society of Ireland guidelines on diagnosis and treatment of autistic spectrum disorder (unless he wishes to formally state that has exited the psychological profession).