Parents ‘never to blame’ for autism

Dr Tony Humphreys said parents were “never to blame” for autism and his intention was simply “to inform and enlighten” the public of research in the area.

He has been severely criticised for his article in last Friday’s Irish Examiner which gave the impression parents were to blame for their child’s condition. Yesterday, he said he never intended “to hurt anybody”.

“My intentions were honourable. I wanted to inform the public of up-to-date research that is there. It was never my intention to hurt anybody.

“I have the greatest compassion for parenting. It is the most important profession we have in society and one which we get the least preparation for. We don’t prepare parents for the complexity of what is involved.”

Dr Humphreys said he simply wished to show research that had proposed a broader examination of autism rather than focusing on it as simply a genetic neurobiological disorder.

“There are complexities and intricacies of family life that didn’t come through in what has been said.

“What I wanted to inform people of is that we need to look at children in a broader sense and look at every aspect of their lives, every relationship they have, at their social and economic experiences, rather than just focusing on a hypothetical, neurobiological defect.

“I wanted to point out that we should look at every aspect of a child’s life in order to truly understand why children behave a certain way,” he said.

At a public meeting in Cork last night, a mother of a five-year-old boy with autism confronted him but he refused to elaborate on what he had written in the Irish Examiner, and said he had already given his response to criticism.

Meanwhile, Dr Sammi Timimi, on whose research Dr Humphreys based his article, said: “I can understand why people would be offended because it seems to imply that behaviours that have led to a diagnosis of autism is somehow the parents’ fault and that’s a million miles away from what we were saying.”

He said his research was focused on taking a broader approach to understanding behaviours associated with autism rather than focusing on the label and the autistic spectrum disorder.

“One thing we certainly weren’t arguing is that these behaviours were caused by poor parenting or cold parenting or anything like that. There is just as little evidence to support that as there is to support the idea that there is some inherent or genetic brain-based disorder that marks these children out from others.

“The new perspective we’re proposing is that the label of autism and the autistic spectrum disorder is not helpful and we should stop using it, and instead look behind and try and understand each person’s story and take an individual approach to constructing what might be a helpful intervention.”

Humphreys history

Dr Tony Humphreys responded to comments on blogs and social media websites which questioned his professional background. He pointed out he had a BA (hons) and MA (hons) in applied psychology from UCC and a PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Birmingham.

Dr Humphreys worked for eight years with Mid-Western Health Board psychiatric services and for two years in Staffordshire Health Authority in Britain. He also has 20 years’ experience as a courses director and lecturer in UCC.

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