Parental Alienation – Or is it? Misrepresentation of Autistic Behaviours

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http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/102708p26.shtmlParental Alienation Syndrome — The Parent/Child Disconnect

The above article totally ignores the potential for autism and possible resultant family dynamics in that situation. I will discuss just one scenario where this could be misused against a parent in an autism family.

Imagine if you will, a dad who for a variety of reasons does not accept his child could have autism. It could be that the mother sees the behaviours in an undiagnosed child, but the dad resists accepting the possibility. It could be that the child is diagnosed, but the dad does not accept the child’s differences or understand the condition. Some of the reasons this might occur is ego-based, fear, or even that the dad has autism himself so the child’s behaviours seem typical to him.

A quick Google will tell you that this problem is quite widespread.

I will quote some paragraphs from the above document and if you are an autism parent, you will see quickly, how dangerous this could be to you in an acrimonious separation situation.


2. Weak, Frivolous, and Absurd Rationalizations
When alienated children are questioned about the reasons for their intense hostility toward the targeted parent, the explanations offered are not of the magnitude that typically would lead a child to reject a parent. These children may complain about the parent’s eating habits, food preparation, or appearance.

That could have been written about an autistic child. What seems very minor or inconsequential to a neurotypical person can be hugely magnified to an autistic one. Autistics also focus on the details, so they will notice lots of little things and it will look to others like they are being disproportionate. A disgruntled father, who is lashing out at the mother and looking for blame, will of course cite this as a sign of unreasonableness and insist the mother has turned the child against them over a period of time or raised the child wrongly.

5. Absence of Guilt About the Treatment of the Targeted Parent
Alienated children typically appear rude, ungrateful, spiteful, and cold toward the targeted parent, and they appear to be impervious to feelings of guilt about their harsh treatment. Gratitude for gifts, favors, or child support provided by the targeted parent is nonexistent. Children with parental alienation syndrome will try to get whatever they can from that parent, declaring that it is owed to them.

Lowered empathy coupled with anxiety and stress can override what may seem logical reactions. An autistic child does not mean to be rude, but can be focused on those aforementioned minor details and not remember to thank, can be blunt and may focus on the negatives because the way the autistic mind thinks, there is no need to mention the positives as they don’t need resolving. Literalness can also mean that an autistic child views the role of the parent as a job, so that they must do certain things to be performing it correctly – that doesn’t mean they don’t love their parent. Stress can give rise to negative comments which the child may not perceive as mean due to low empathy. Autistic children can release some stress through complaining.

8. Rejection of Extended Family
Finally, the hatred of the targeted parent spreads to his or her extended family. Not only is the targeted parent denigrated, despised, and avoided but so are his or her extended family. Formerly beloved grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins are suddenly and completely avoided and rejected.

An autistic child may feel stressed at spending time with extended family members, especially if they don’t see them regularly, because it upsets their routine. Additionally, if those family members also don’t understand autism or don’t accept the child has autism, they will not be bearing in mind the specific needs of the child when they spend time with them, which can make the child feel uncertain and stressed. They are used to spending time with a mother that intuits their needs and is used to their whims. It can be a terrifying place to be plonked with family members who don’t respond the same way. If an autistic child has low danger awareness and the extended family members do not supervise accordingly, that can be a sticking point between the mother and the relatives, based on a very valid concern. That does not mean the parent is being obstructive or turning the child against relatives and if the father or his relatives don’t understand autism, it’s all too easy to assume the worst about the mother when she is entirely innocent.

If the child resists being taken out alone by the father, he might make assumptions that the mother is poisoning the child’s mind against him. But there are all sorts of reasons why the autistic child may resist spending time alone with the father that are nothing to do with the mother.

Let’s say the dad is one of those who is a real joker, doesn’t take anything seriously and he does not understand autism at all. He insists that if the child wails in protest at his jokes which are taken literally, that the child is exaggerating. If they have what seem to him to be extreme reactions, they are not exaggerating, it is their real experience, because that is how an autistic person processes it. Because of this, he stresses the child and they will only go somewhere with him if the mother goes too – which isn’t possible in the situation, so the child refuses to go. The father blames the mother for this.

Autistic children also can have inappropriate laughter when they are stressed, it’s a form of release of stress, so superficially it appears to the dad that the child is having a great time. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are enjoying a situation. The child may return home very upset and having masked their distress whilst spending time with dad, then throws themselves at the mother complaining of a long list of upsets and say they will not go anywhere with the father again.

If the parents end up in a court situation, especially where social services are involved, the mother may be wrongfully demonised, accused of emotional harm and parental alienation and in a worst case scenario custody could be given to the father. Imagine giving custody to a father who rejects their child’s condition and does not know how to provide for the child’s needs? Any ensuing behavioural problems in the child resulting from this scenario would likely also be blamed on the mother, it would be claimed she had caused emotional damage and the child needed therapy to recover. In fact, in this situation it would be the father who needed therapy to overcome his rejection of the child’s condition and his wrongful anger against the mother that will only interfere with father-child bonding and prevent him being a good father.

The saddest irony, is that the very thing the father in this situation is falsely accusing the mother of, is the very thing that he ends up causing.

It is high time the differences of autism families are understood by all those who are involved with families, to ensure there is no misrepresentation of autism, no wrongful blame and no unjust and harmful interventions, devastating lives.

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