In need of a 250 word response/discussion to each of the following forum posts. Agreement/disagreement/and/or continuing the discussion.
Original forum discussion/topic post is as follows:
Topic: Bruno Bettelheim
Our text discusses the good work that Bruno Bettelheim did therapeutically for the children in his school. You should know, however, that he has many very vocal critics based upon his view of the role of parenting as a possible cause of autism. Please link to and view the following:
Note: Obviously, these people have very strong feelings about Bettelheim. Please do not interpret their opinions as undisputed fact or as a viewpoint that I, as your Professor, am endorsing.
If you have restrictions on YouTube.com viewing, you can read the below article instead. It will give you the same information as the video:
Although your text only briefly touches upon it, Bettelheim is often viewed as one of the major proponents of the “refrigerator mother” theory of autism. Do you believe that Bettelheim’s view has any validity? Why or why not? Are there are points he makes regarding problematic attachment in autistic individuals that could be helpful to a therapist?
Forum post #1
In the text, Crain (2011) explains that Bettelheim was often accused of blaming autism on the children’s parents; although he claims this was not his intention. Bettelheim believed that autism was the result of temperamental differences between children and parents. The refrigerator mom theory describes the idea that cold, neglectful mothers are often the reason that a child develops autism. Because of the mother’s cold and emotionally neglectful demeanor, the child is left unable to relate to others and thus develops autism. It is difficult for me to say whether I think Bettelheim’s view has any validity. While I don’t believe that every child with autism has an emotionally cold and distant caregiver, he does make some interesting points which make sense within the lens of attachment theory. Like most other debates in the field of psychology, autism is most likely the result of a combination of both genetics and environment rather than just one or the other. Bettelheim’s theory that problems such as autism can arise from problematic early attachment does have some validity though. The first phase of Mahler’s separation/individuation theory is called the normal autism phase. During this phase, babies focus on their inner psychological state (Crain, 2011). During this time, babies are most interested with what is going on in their inner world, rather than what is going on in the external world. Mahler believed that children with autism could not move out of this phase for some reason and therefore remain focused on their internal world rather than focusing on interactions within the external world (Crain, 2011).
Mahler suggested that therapists working with children with autism should focus on working with both the infant and their caregiver in order to strengthen and facilitate a more harmonious relationship (Crain, 2011). She suggested that the goal for children with autism is to develop a stronger, more trusting relationship with their caregiver in order for the child to move from the autism phase and improve outside relationships with others. This therapy recommendation would also apply to the refrigerator moms mentioned in Bettelheim’s theory. Bettelheim would likely agree that the therapeutic goal for a child with autism would be to work on improving and strengthening the relationship with the mother, or primary caregiver.
Crain, W. (2011). Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Forum post #2
In the article The Refrigerator Mother (2010) the author, who is a neuroscientist that goes by the anonymous handle Neuroskeptic offers a critique of the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim. Under other circumstances, I would be inclined to ignore the thoughts and opinions of an online blogger about psychology or neuroscience, especially one that refuses to list his real name, credentials, or his sources for his article. However, in this case I will make an exception simply because the mistakes made by Bruno Bettelheim while conducting his research do border on negligent in many cases. It is not uncommon for one to use parent’s or a bad childhood as an excuse for moral or psychological failings, and these seem overwhelmingly directed at blaming mothers. According to Neuroskeptic (2010), it is mother’s being cold emotionally that creates autism, and this emotional distance creates feelings of inadequacy, lack of self, and unable to relate to other humans if an effective or “normal” manner. The idea that autism would be the result of neglect by a mother is something that seems ridiculous based on modern biological and genetic evidence.
Before examining the reading in detail, I will start by saying that Bruno Bettelheim, despite his accomplishments in the field of psychology for the University of Chicago, is also a proven fraud. Several sources point to Bruno Bettleheim, several sources discredit his credentials and accuse Bettlehiem of plagiarizing the work of other scientists, not simply disagreeing with his findings during a typical peer review process. Although not all of this can be substantiated, the one thing that does appear to be proven is that his work in Austria prior to the war was greatly exaggerated. He was not a medical doctor, nor did Bettleheim have any degree in psychology (Grossman, 1997). His actual doctorate degree was one in art history, which hardly qualifies him as an expert in human behavior or development. There are also multiple sources that question his qualifications and ethics that were too numerous to list for the sake of a forum, but they were not difficult to locate for anyone that is interested.
Based on the reading, there are many positive things to say about the methods of Bruno Bettleheim. The environment he created for the children, which appeared to be supportive and nurturing, was likely very helpful in the children developing more effective coping skills for their autism. The fact that much of the evidence seems to indicate that he is patient and supportive is a good indication that he at least meant well. I also respect that he was focused on the autonomy and self-efficacy of his patients (Crain, 2016). In response to this, there are those that argue that the reason he was so willing to allow this therapy to go on as long as it did is because he wanted to drag it out, because he saw the school as a source of fame and income. Like most researchers of this era, the main critique of the effectiveness of Bettleheim’s methods is that it did not include data on enough subjects to be considered useful for statistical purposes (Crain, 2016). For the sake of examining developmental psychology, Bettleheim’s methods were intriguing, especially since the school appeared to make no effort to try and change the children’s behavior. It is difficult to say whether not interrupting the children’s psychosis improved their treatment, or if it made treating these children take longer. In the tradition of other thinkers like Rousseau, Bettleheim appeared to believe that trying to modify the behavior of autistic children was both unnecessary and harmful to their treatment (Crain, 2016).
(20 Sep 2010). The Refrigerator Mother. Neuroskeptic. Retrieved from:
Crain, W. (2016). Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications (6th ed.). New York,
Grossman, R. (23 Jan 1997). Genius or Fraud? Bettlehiem’s biographers can’t seem to decide.
Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1997-01-
Forum post #3
“Refrigerator mother” is reference to mothers who are emotionally cold to their child and deny them the love, warmth, care and attachment they need in order to develop normally. This idea was prevalent in the 1950’s and was used to explain different psychological phenomenon like schizophrenia and autism. Bruno Bettelheim had experienced the worst of life while enduring the pains of living in a prison camp during the Holocaust. This caused him to believe that he could feel the disconnect from humans that individuals with autism struggle with. He related his understanding of how the Nazis treated him, to how “refrigerator mothers” treat their own children, which he believed caused their autism (Crain, 2016). In recent years, research has indicated that Bettelheim’s assumptions about autism were mostly flawed, but some aspects of his approach to helping those with autism should still be remembered.
Recent findings have indicated that there are several different causes of autism. Studies of identical twins, fraternal twins, and siblings have indicated that there are key genetic factors in developing autism as well as development in the womb that can influence autism. Dr. Wendy Chung, who directs the clinical genetics program at Columbia University, has found that if a sibling of an identical twin has autism, the other identical twin has a 77% chance of also having autism. In fraternal twins it was about 31% and in regular siblings it was less than 20%. The high rate seen amongst the identical twins indicates that there are significant genetic influences in autism. Also the difference in rates between fraternal twins and siblings indicate that there are factors in the womb that could also cause autism. Researchers working with Dr. Chung have found variety of genes and genetic mutations that can cause autism. Although Dr. Chung explains the importance of these findings, she still admits there is so much more research that still needs to be done to better understand these genetic influences. (Chung, 2014). Of the research that has been conducted there is very little evidence to support environmental influences in the cause of autism. Environmental theories like Bettelheim’s “refrigerator mothers” have less support. The theory of “refrigerator mothers” also has unfortunately created a stigma for the mothers of children with autism. Because of this approach many mothers could be shamed into believing that they played a role in their child having autism. His research also takes the perspective that there can be a cure for autism, when many researchers would instead like to see it as a way of life. I think that Bettelheim’s “refrigerator mother” theory is invalid, and has caused harm to the mothers of children with autism. Not only do they have to deal with the stress of raising a child, but also the unjust shame that they might have been an unloving mother (Stace, 2010).
I think there are some aspects of Bettelheim’s approach that could be helpful to a therapist. I think that Bettelheim really strived to help his patients feel cared for while being autonomous. He highly valued attachment between the child with autism and the caregivers. He even thought of how that care can be shown in a way that the child would understand. Sometimes he realized that the child wanted to establish their own independence and the best way to love them was to give them the space to do that (Crain, 2016). I think with too little attachment an autistic child could continue to struggle to understand social interactions and social cues, becoming more secluded. I also think that an unhealthy amount of support and direction could cause the child to become too dependent on the caregiver. Developing a secure relationship is really important regardless of whether or not the child has autism. I can remember one of my students with autism, Ryan, who is now attending college on his own 3 hours from his family and is majoring is special education, described how he has dealt with autism throughout his lifetime. He explained that he was blessed because of the early recognition and intervention that his parents provided to help him socially and with his fine motor skills. He believed that early intervention was the reason why we was able to be so high functioning and independent. He wants to try to help other children like his parents did, because he really believed that they made an impact on his current success. So perhaps environment doesn’t cause autism as Bettelheim presumed, but environment can certainly impact the autistic child as they develop.
Chung, W., (2014) Autism: What we know and don’t know yet. TED talks. Retrieved from
Crain, W. (2016) Theories of development: Concepts and applications. New York, NY: Routledge.
Meyer, W. S. (2010). Bruno bettelheim and his window to the soul. Clinical Social Work Journal, 38(3), 275-285. doi:10.1007/s10615-009-0218-0
Stace, H. (2010). Student research report: Mother blaming; or autism, gender and science.Women’s Studies Journal, 24(2), 66