Feeling Like You're on a Prison Ship: Understanding the Attachment narratives of parents of Autistic Children

  • Ben Grey (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation for an academic audienceInvited talk for an academic audience


Dr Grey, introduced by Professor Mick Cooper (CREST Director), then presents an initial study exploring the caregiving and attachment relationships of parents of autistic children, analysing 16 Parent Development Interviews conducted as part of a larger evaluation of a systemic intervention with families where a child has an autism diagnosis. The interviews were analysed using attachment theory driven Discourse Analysis: namely the Adult Attachment Interview and Meaning of the Child Interview methods of evaluating relational discourse for transformations of meaning with a self-protective function. A multiple case-study approach was used to build an explanatory model of the caregiving and parent-child relationships of the whole sample. The study found a high level of trauma in the parents’ early childhood that shaped the way they interpreted their child and the parent-child relationship, often undermining these parents’ intentions to form more positive relationships with their own children. An interpersonal understanding of the problems of these families is suggested, seeing difficulties as residing in relationships, frequently maintained by a circular process of ruptures, as parent and child seek to protect themselves from the pain and shame inherent in the experience of ‘disconnection’, and the apparent failure of the parents’ hope for a better relationship with their children than they experienced as children. This may be exacerbated by commonly available autism narratives, which tend to essentialise problems, mechanise parental understanding of their children, and encourage parents to experience their child as fundamentally separate, challenging the caregiving system.

Estimated audience numbers (if applicable)

1200 (including YouTube views)
Period28 Oct 2020
Event titleCREST Seminar: Feeling Like You're on a Prison Ship: Understanding the Attachment narratives of Parents of Autistic Children
Event typeSeminar


  • Attachment
  • Autism
  • Reflective Functioning
  • Caregiving
  • Adult Attachment Interview
  • Meaning of the Child