What Causes Autism?

A mother’s quest to understand her child revolutionized our understanding of autism.

In the 1930s and 1940s, researchers identified childhood autism as a unique condition. At the same time, many believed that children became autistic because they had cold, intellectual, emotionally withholding mothers.

But Clara Park, a woman whose daughter had autism, set out to understand autism differently and, along with other families and dedicated researchers, she upended the medical establishment’s view of her daughter’s condition.

In this Mental Health Minute, Marga Vicedo, PhD, discusses her recent book, Intelligent Love: The Story of Clara Park, Her Autistic Daughter, and the Myth of the Refrigerator Mother. Along with telling Park’s story, the book shows how medical research can both reflect social attitudes and change them.

Dr Vicedo is professor of the history of science and medicine in the Institute for the History of Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto. She is the author of Intelligent Love: The Story of Clara Park, Her Autistic Daughter, and the Myth of the Refrigerator Mother.

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