This book explains the current fascination with autism by linking it to a longer history of childhood development. Drawing from a staggering array of primary sources, it traces autism back to its origins in the early twentieth century and explains why the idea of autism has always been controversial and why it experienced a 'metamorphosis' in the 1960s and 1970s. The book locates changes in psychological theory in Britain in relation to larger shifts in the political and social organisation of schools, hospitals, families and childcare. It explores how government entities have dealt with the psychological category of autism. The book looks in detail at a unique children's 'psychotic clinic' set up in London at the Maudsley Hospital in the 1950s. It investigates the crisis of government that developed regarding the number of 'psychotic' children who were entering the public domain when large long-stay institutions closed. The book focuses on how changes in the organisation of education and social services for all children in 1970 gave further support to the concept of autism that was being developed in London's Social Psychiatry Research Unit. It also explores how new techniques were developed to measure 'social impairment' in children in light of the Seebohm reforms of 1968 and other legal changes of the early 1970s. Finally, the book argues that epidemiological research on autism in the 1960s and 1970s pioneered at London's Institute of Psychiatry has come to define global attempts to analyse and understand what, exactly, autism is.
autism can only be understood in the context of the legal and
institutional networks that enabled the spread of psychologicaltheory as applied to infants and children in Britain in the early
twentieth century. This chapter examines the integration of the
concept of autism into psychologicaltheory in Britain and the
Perceiving, describing and modelling child development
the 1960s, psychiatric
epidemiology was regarded as a new tool with which to challenge theories
of the unconscious in child development. By the 1990s, psychologicaltheories on the significance of unconscious instinctual drives to the
development of pathological forms of infantile thought were virtually
obsolete. They had been superseded and subsumed within new
neuroscientific models for understanding
points of psychologicaltheory could be interrogated in depth.
Because the Mental Deficiency, Education and National
Health Service Acts made no mention of the concepts of childhood
psychosis or schizophrenia, the children diagnosed with these
conditions had no legal rights to long-term treatment or education.
The Maudsley psychotic clinic was founded partly in order to
about the way to collect and employ
scientific data when making claims about children’s early
As discussed in Chapter 1 , the
first autism was adopted into psychologicaltheory in Britain
primarily via major mental health institutions, child guidance
clinics and progressive and permissive schools. It was not
integrated via the
they placed psychologicaltheory and social theory on a par.
Wing’s reason to focus on the problems of social interaction
was that ‘all the conditions in which the triad of language
and social impairments occurs, whatever the level of severity, are
accompanied by similar problems affecting social and intellectual
skills’. 160 This was in many ways a tautology
– of course
The meaning of ‘autism’, as both a
defining state in the development of individuality and an aspect of
schizophrenic thinking, has always been dependent upon the broader
gestalt of psychologicaltheory and the institutional structures that
have supported it. It is for this reason that the closure of mental
deficiency institutions had such a profound effect on the theoretical
defective’, ‘subnormal’ and
‘psychotic’. They also provided the basis of a new
model for testing subjectivity. Unlike mere behavioural criteria,
these tests also enabled the formulation of new psychologicaltheories on child development.
The application of tests to specifically identify
‘autistic’ children in Britain began in the 1960s with
, Marital Tensions: Clinical Studies towards a PsychologicalTheory of Interaction (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967), pp. 223–5.
M. M. Gullette, Safe at Last in the Middle Years: The Invention of the Midlife Progress Novel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).
epitomise Wulffen’s gendered criminal psychologicaltheories: Sperl as the example of the guardian of the law who is fooled
by his desire for knowledge; Klarika as the example of a prematurely
sexually active teenager whose sex makes her vulnerable. This is what
Sperl does not understand, and what causes or at least hastens Klarika’s
downfall. Tensions between psychological explanations of criminality
and notions of biological determinism in Wulffen’s thinking became more
marked over time. During the Weimar period these tensions opened his
work to critique from various