The 1950s were turbulent, dramatic and provocative times for people interested in social change and its impact on child psychology. The 1950s was an important decade for psychological research that took 'society' and social causes within its remit. By the early 1950s, children classed with 'psychosis', 'schizophrenia' and 'autism' stood at the heart of controversies over the social and emotional development of children. The Maudsley psychotic clinic was founded partly to get 'childhood psychosis' recognised as a legal category and also to reinforce the role of medically trained child psychiatrists in determining the treatment that 'psychotic' children received. All of the children in the psychotic clinic were given a battery of tests on arrival in order to determine their physiological functions and their levels of intellectual and social development. Tests could help to build a picture of the child's internal conceptual framework and his sensory-motor functions.
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.