4 Feb 2012

Irish Examiner and Tony Humphreys- A New/Old Theory of Autism

I've been justifiably angry often lately. First there is the Welfare Reform Bill that will cause real harm to disabled people and those already poor and vulnerable. Much of the media and many politicians have been busy spinning the truth about people's lives and impairments to portray people who require support as scroungers and layabouts, out to milk the system. Then there was the quack clinic, purporting to prevent and cure autism in infants showing "pre-autistic traits" and which received uncritical publicity in the media because celebrity Melanie Sykes gives it support.

But with this my ire boils over and if I don't blog a bit to release the pressure, I fear I may blow.
A man called Tony Humphreys has written an article available in the print edition of The Irish Examiner on February 3 2012. The article has been reproduced in full here. Humphreys describes himself as "Ireland’s most influential psychologist" and he runs courses at University College Cork and All Hallows College, Dublin. To read his article however, you would be forgiven for thinking he has absolutely zero knowledge or experience of autism. It ranks as one of the worst and most detestable diatribes relating to autism I have had the misfortune to read and given that I have been examining the world of autism quackery and myth for 10 years, that's really something special.

He starts by referring to the work of  Professor Simon Baron-Cohen and the Cambridge Autism Research Centre saying that "the children and grandchildren of engineers were more likely to be autistic." But then Humphreys expresses shock that these researchers are "assuming that autism is a scientific fact".
Yes really, we can stop right here and know that Ireland's most self-regarding "influential" psychologist has the gall to call into question that the very existence of autism. The latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is currently being produced. Perhaps Humphreys should contact them and inform them to leave autism out since he clearly knows something all the other professionals don't.

Though he has already shown himself to be ignorant of autism science, I shall soldier on because Humphreys decides now to slander all parents of autistic children but also all engineers and scientists by claiming that as we all "live predominanently in [our] heads and possess few or no heart qualities, [our] children will need to find some way of defending themselves against the absence of expressed love and affection and emotional receptivity".


The Irish Examiner has thought it right to publish an article in which the author denies the existence of autism and claims that the children currently diagnosed as such are merely reacting to their cold and loveless upbringings.

He continues:
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.
This is a rehash of the comprehensibly discredited "refrigerator mother" hypothesis of autism. The truth is that autism is lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. 

Humphreys next asserts that parents seek help for their autistic children to avoid examining their "own emotional and social struggles.
it is their adult carers who often need more help than they do."

Humphreys further exposes his ignorance by distinguishing incorrectly 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)."

These two are the same thing. He next spins the gender differences in autism diagnoses to fit his notion of autism as caused by cold, unloving parents.

Mike Stanton blogged about the Sami Timimi book Humphreys refers to next. Read Mike's post for a thorough assessment of Timmini's assertion that the autism "label should be abolished".

Humphreys concludes: 

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 livews, 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. 
Humpreys decries the autism industry, though he clearly wants a bit of that action for himself. He has a book out that is "relevant to today's article" and it sounds like he reckons we need people like him to examine our narratives. Nought like a spot of old fashioned psychoanalysis to sort out our selfish ways, eh Tony?

Or perhaps Tony Humphreys is just looking for a spot of provacateur columnist work like Kevin Myers, Rod Liddle, Jan Moir and Liz Jones. Either way both he and the Irish Examiner should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. I shall expect a retraction and an apology.


Lisamaree said...

Think you kave hit it on the head: he has a book coming out. This kind of "controversy" is designed to get him some Talking Head spots to promote his book and paid peaking engagements.
I also read into it a need for us "non-existent" autism parents to be taught to love and build relationships with our children because clearly we are unable to engage with them (according to himself)
Reminds me of that new trend in Autism therapy "re-connect" - therapists which I've personally always found a bit mystifying. My first instinct was to love and nurture my children - to the point where I was facilitating their lack of general communication skills. It was only through attending courses and reading books about communication that I could learn to stop "mind-reading" and start to shape their behaviour so they could communicate with anyone appropriately and be understood. It was hard - but it helped them towards acceptance and inclusion in a wider community. It also increased their access to a wider range of influences, people and experiences. My overwhelming protective love was limiting their development and potential - the opposite of Humphrey's hypothesis.
In the words of another great autism denialist "He really is an arsehole"

Sharon McDaid said...

Lisa I quite agree- I have always been very connected to my son. I carried him in a sling for the 1st 6 months of his life. I was always able to interpret his communication attempts. But as I leant about autism I realised I was doing him and me no favours and had to pull back a bit, give him space to learn more productive and typical ways to communicate. It also helped to allow him to move beyond my reach and to attach to and trust other people. I was more aga mum than refrigerator!

SID said...

Nice post! It's always sad when one has to upset others to gain attention. I wonder what unresolved issues Mr Humphreys has?

Allie said...

What a vile article. I can only hope he learns some sense and apologises.

Bibliomama said...

Why even bother expecting a retraction and an apology? He obviously doesn't care how uninformed or insulting he is to anyone with half a brain - even if you got one, it would be insincere.

sharon Morris said...

I was so angry when reading this article tears appeared. I am yet to meet a parent of a child with autism who is not dedicated and loving. His words felt like a spit in the face.

There are however two good things to come out of the printing of such reprehensible rubbish.

1) Tony Humphreys will become the laughing stock of his profession and beyond. Although he might do OK if he moves to France.
2) I found your blog.

Truf said...

Despite the fact that my family ticks all of Tony Humphreys boxes, I was not so much furious as bemused by his attempts to stir some very old sh*t. That is, until someone pointed out on fb that a lot of people reading this article will take his "opinion" for the holy truth - after all, it was printed in a newspaper! So yes, we have to take charlatans such as Humphreys seriously, ask for apologies and retractions, and try and negate the damage they cause as much as possible.

Andra said...

I love my kids with autism, they love me, I know this because of the way they express themselves to me on a daily basis, I like many other parents of a children or children with autism learn to became finely in tune with your child's needs and emotions. This man doesn't deserve the ink on paper but he can unfortunately affect how people think about autism with his unfounded rubbish bunkem. It is unacceptable to spread untruthful and hurtful opinions that have no foundation.

Sharon McDaid said...

@SID well he certainly doesn't seem to have had enough attention, he's still at the "throwing his toys out of the pram" stage of development.

@Allie, maybe he will. I think he'll be forced to so he can claw back some respectability. He's messed with the wrong crowd!

@Bibliomama, I feel it worthwhile asking for an apology from the paper who gave space to these ideas. The publication of this article adds to the damaging myths about autism and causes real harm to families. I'm especially concerned with how this will affect parents of newly diagnosed children who have enough to be dealing with.

Sharon McDaid said...

@Me, I'm not surprised to hear you reacted that way. This is hurtful and harsh, even though we know it is untrue, it comes so easy to mothers especially to assume blame and we doubt ourselves.
I agree with your first point, and yes, he'd fit right in with the awful notions that prevail in France. And thanks for your second point!

@Tuf, same here, my children have 2 scientists as parents. 1 out of 3 is autistic and all were raised with warmth and attention in abundance. I agree that it is important to challenge this stuff to limit the harm it can cause.

@Andra, it's such a sad lie to claim that we don't love the autistic children and adults in our lives. Likewise the terrible accusation that autistic people don't know how to love needs to be refuted.

Shane said...

Humphreys presumably belongs to some sort of professional organisation? Maybe someone should let them know. Either way, he doesn't appear to know much about neurology, medicine, learning disabilities, or, for that matter, psychology...

adrienne Clarke said...

thanks for the artcle about the asshole Humphreys. I wrote to examiner yesterday, will let you know what if any response I get.

Love and light to all in the autism community xxx

Sharon McDaid said...

@Shane, Agree, it would be worth contacting the universities where he directs course and finding out what professional bodies he's a member of.
And no, he displays great ignorance and zero empathy.

@adrienne, please do let us know what response you get. This is unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

I do not think you will get far with the universities - his biog is gloss to the max ("He is the director of three courses on interpersonal communication, parent mentoring and relationship studies respectively at University College, Cork and National College of Ireland. He is also a Fellow of the National College of Ireland.") but he actually only seems to teach a few hours on night-time diploma courses.

He is also not a doctor in the strict sense, so he might not be registered with any regulatory body.

Sharon McDaid said...

Hi Anon. I though it worth trying as he teaches courses taken by parents and more crucially, special needs teaching assistants. If they are being taught his false and damaging ideas of autism, it would impact negatively on any children they go on to work with.

Anonymous said...

@Sharon - I did not mean to be so negative, actually the opposite and I did not communicate well. We should all publicly challenge the titles that Humphreys is using when he calls himself Dr, Consultant Clinical Director and Course Director. These claims appear to exist only in his self-promotional web pages and he does not offer any evidence that he is employed in any of these roles, or qualified to use these titles.

(Perhaps he is - but he does not say so).

Bullet said...

I don't think Humphreys got enough hugs as a child :P.
Being serious, he is ridiculously attention seeking.

Bock the Robber said...

Quote from Tony's site on one of the courses he runs:

Parenting is a complex profession and parents require professional expertise and guidance to help and support them …

No they don't.

Parents have been successfully bringing up children since the dawn of time without the help of "professionals". Especially professionals with no kids of their own.