Establishing Contexts for Support: Undoing the Legacy of the “Refrigerator Mother” Myth

  • Matthew BennettEmail author
  • Amanda A. Webster
  • Emma Goodall
  • Susannah Rowland


One of the earliest theories about the causes of autism is that it occurs from poor parenting or more specifically from the parents’ failure to form an attachment or bond with their child in the early months of his/her life. Known as the “refrigerator mother” myth, this theory gained widespread popularity in the 1960s and led many parents and professionals to believe that parents of autistic children were negligent and responsible for their child’s autistic symptomology. This chapter will explore the origins of the “refrigerator mother” myth, unpack the current research on interactions and attachment between parents and autistic children, and assess its current impact on autistic individuals, their parents and families. In particular, the resulting stress and isolation experienced by parents will be discussed. The chapter will conclude with recommendations for making the transition from placing the blame and burden on parents for their child’s difficulties, towards creating supportive structures so that parents can build their child’s competence.


Historical theories Parents Perceptions Stigmatization Stress and support 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew Bennett
    • 1
    Email author
  • Amanda A. Webster
    • 2
  • Emma Goodall
    • 3
  • Susannah Rowland
    • 4
  1. 1.University of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  2. 2.University of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  3. 3.University of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  4. 4.University of WollongongWollongongAustralia

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