A new study from the University of North Carolina finds that "some parents of children with autism evaluate facial expressions differently than the rest of us – and in a way that is strikingly similar to autistic patients themselves."
The press release from the University of North Carolina states: "Based on psychological testing, 15 of the parents were classified as being socially aloof.... This manifests as a tendency not to prefer interactions with others, not to enjoy 'small talk' for the sake of the social experience and to have few close friendships involving sharing and mutual support," said Piven, senior author of the study, Sarah Graham Kenan professor of psychiatry in the UNC School of Medicine and director of the newly established Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities. "This characteristic is really a variation of normal and not associated with any functional impairment."
This finding, in itself, is interesting... and it seems to support a long-standing theory that autistic traits can be inherited.<p> What disturbs me about this study is not the actual finding, but rather the language used in media coverage, and the implication by the media that ANY deviation from an implied norm is somehow suspect and possibly even pathological.
For example, take a look at these headlines:
- Aloof parents may produce autistic children (New Scientist, UK)
- Parents of Autistic Children Are Often Aloof Themselves (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
- Socially aloof couples more likely to have autistic children (Fresh News, India)
Over the last few years, terms like "shadow autism," "borderline autism" have slowly made their way into the news. As a result, traits such as shyness, social anxiety, or even a preferance for solitude, quiet, or independent pursuits are slowly but surely being pathologized. Now, "aloof" parents are being presented in the media as likely carriers of full blown autism.
At a certain point, it seems to me that we will find a huge portion of humanity fits the criteria for some form of "autistic-like" disorder... a disturbing trend. Is it possible that the world we've created for ourselves and the normal breadth of human personalities just don't mesh very well?