The most striking thing about the mothers was their lack of feel, or rather defective feel, for the child's correct needs. They were often grossly out of tune with the affective and cognitive world of the child. Their expectations not only were unrealistic but often bizarre, paradoxical and not synchronous with the child's developmental stage. In areas where the child could excel there was little interest and appreciation. In contrast, where the child was a laggard, and could not perform, there were unreasonable hopes and demands.
The following case whom I treated for about six months - the treatment came to an abrupt halt when one day the mother realized that the boy was getting emotionally attached to me and gaining strength from it would pose opposition to her dictatorial control - best exemplifies this type of oddity in mothers of autistic children.
Now to the Biological Psychiatrists the mother's logic would have made perfect sense and in fact they might have made her an honorary member of the College of Neuropsychopharmacology for such profound thinking, but to us, governed more by common sense than mutual back scratching, there is something not quite right about the way the child and the mother were using the language. The boy just on hearing the teacher say that capital punishment could have merit physically attacked the teacher. The teacher was just facilitating the topic and had nothing to do with the actual capital punishment with real criminals. But the language, or rather the words of the language, were not quite correctly connected to the underlying concepts which those words were conventionally suppose to capture. And they certainly were not connected to the right emotional nuances that had accompanied them when he had first heard them, while acquiring language in his formative year. So while the discussion on capital punishment would have provoked at worst a little horror and queasiness in a sensitive individual, in this boy it provoked outright violence - he attacked the messenger (teacher) instead of dealing with the message.
And this disturbance in language was present in mother as well. Ambition for her son was associated in her mind with his becoming professor at the University of Michigan. The word 'ambition' in a regular mind would be associated with studying hard, burning the midnight oil, getting good grades, applying to different universities, entrepreneurship invention etc. But in her mind there was only one association: her son giving a lecture at the University of Michigan. What entails in becoming a professor and what her son could realistically achieve were not associated with her conception of ambition. The way the mother and son used words, rather language as a whole, did not make comprehending the world easier but more confusing. The language was more a means of obfuscation than enlightenment.
In fact in this mother-and-child-autistic-bond, all communications occurred in a cloistered fashion and in a verbose and schizotypal language. Additionally, to make things worse with language, the mother often dealt with the son by keeping "morally uplifting" books in her reach from which she would quote to win arguments, which they were always having. Her conversation with him was littered with references to the exemplary and literary people from the past, and as to what they would have said about the matter under discussion. So instead of teaching the child using normal language, she dealt with him, rather dealt with her aggressive impulses towards her by bringing impersonal language of the high class books. The language, the faculty of communicating through sound, was being used to create distance not closeness between them.
In the six months that I treated the boy and the mother - for she always barged in in the sessions, convinced that what she had to say about him was infinitely more important and meaningful than what he had to say about himself - it became apparent to me that behind the pomposity, peculiar language, and high-mindedness lay excessive fear of the world from which the two were escaping not only from each other but with the world as a whole too together by denying its fearfulness through a deviant use of language.
What lies behind this extreme fear? Deep down these mothers - at least a majority of them that I came across - have great ambivalence towards their autistic child. Hatred exists alongside love. And the fear arises as a means to check acting out their hatred with punitive aggression. The aggression is not completely eliminated by fear though. It finds outlets in distortion and in obsessive behaviors. Trying to control obsessive impulses - behind which lie hatred of the child - exhausts the mother and leaves little room for love and understanding to emerge in her interactions with the child.